Stone Brewing’s initial attempt to prevent MillerCoors from selling rebranded Keystone Light products has come up short.
On Tuesday, a federal judge denied Stone’s motion for a preliminary injunction as well as the San Diego-based craft brewery’s attempt to dismiss MillerCoors’ counterclaims.
Although U.S. District Judge Roger T. Benitez denied Stone’s motions, he wrote that the craft brewery’s trademark infringement claim is “moderately strong” and said the “Stone” trademark is “indisputable” with “protectable ownership.”
Still, Benitez found that Stone was “hard-pressed” to prove it would suffer irreparable harm by not receiving a preliminary injunction. He added that MillerCoors “has not been found liable of trademark infringement,” and should not be forced to stop using the refreshed Keystone Light packaging until the matter is decided in a courtroom.
Stone filed the lawsuit against MillerCoors nearly 14 months ago, alleging that the mainstream beer manufacturer’s rebranded Keystone Light packaging and advertisements infringed upon its “Stone” trademark.
The case — which was first cited by attorney Brendan Palfreyman, who runs the TrademarkYourBeer.com website — will now advance to the discovery phase and potentially a trial. Stone is seeking monetary damages and a permanent injunction against the rebranded Keystone Light packages.
MillerCoors issued a statement Wednesday saying it was “pleased” with the ruling.
“Clearly the court saw this as we did, which is that the motion lacked merit,” the country’s second largest beer company said. “We maintain we always used our Keystone trademark in an appropriate manner, and have easily refuted claims to the contrary.”
Despite the court siding with MillerCoors and dismissing both motions, Stone issued a press release Wednesday evening declaring victory. According to the California craft brewery’s release, the order means “MillerCoors’ Keystone cans are likely to confuse consumers, infringe on Stone’s trademark, and will likely be forced to undergo a rebrand after the case goes to trial.”
“All along this has been a clear-cut infringement case, and now we can focus our resources on proving the significant damages done to the good name of Stone Brewing,” Stone Brewing co-founder Greg Koch said via the release.
“MillerCoors has made hundreds of millions of dollars from rebranding Keystone in a way that infringes on our trademark,” Stone CEO Dominic Engels added. “It also has hurt Stone and our brand. We look forward to presenting this evidence to the Court at trial.”
In his order, Benitez found that Stone’s mark is “commercially strong and recognizable,” while MillerCoors’ offered “little more than conjecture to refute Stone’s position.” Nevertheless, the judge found there to be “more differences in the marks than similarities when considered in their entirety and as they appear in the marketplace.”
Benitez also wrote that Stone’s claim against MillerCoors “conveniently fails to mention … that a consumer picking up, or even just looking at a Keystone can see the full name KEYSTONE Light (twice), as well as the bright-yellow house mark of Coors, printed on the can.”
The judge also found that Stone’s attempts to prove consumer confusion — through expert surveys, consumer social media posts and images, such as a photo of a delivery trailer with a door rolled up obscuring the “Key” in “Keystone” — to be lacking substance. He noted there are consumers likely know the difference between the two brands due to “the cans, packaging and price.”
Finally, Benitez denied Stone’s attempt to dismiss MillerCoors’ counterclaims, including asking the court to grant it the right to use the terms “Stone” and “Stones” in Keystone advertisements and also the exclusive right to use “Stone” in connection with U.S. beer sales.