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$56 Million Jury Award in San Diego Trademark Case

June 20, 2022 | Food/Beverage,Intellectual Property

After filing a lawsuit against Molson Coors in 2018 for trademark infringement and unfair competition, Stone Brewing was awarded $56 million by an eight-person jury in March of this year.

This case began when beer giant Molson Coors shortened the advertising and packaging of their Keystone Light line of beers to “Stone” by itself, rather than the full phrase “Keystone”, and the California-based craft brewery Stone Brewing just wasn’t going to have it. Claiming that the new branding “Stone” by Molson Coors would likely confuse consumers as to the source and damage Stone Brewing’s brand, Stone Brewing wanted $216 million.

The jury found that Molson Coors did infringe on Stone Brewing’s trademark, but declined the assertion that they did so willfully, and set the damages at $56 million.

Molson Coors wasn’t happy. In response, they gave the following statement: “It’s been clear all along that there is no credible confusion between Keystone Light and Stone Scorpion Bowl IPA, Arrogant Bastard Ale, or any of Stone Brewing’s other products. There are still several defenses that will be resolved by the Court and we are evaluating our options for appeal.”

Though $56 million was a fraction of what they wanted, Stone Brewery was pleased with the result: “This is a historic day for Stone Brewing, and for the craft beer industry. Molson Coors threatened our heritage, but we stood up to that threat. They will put the ‘Key’ back in ‘Keystone’ ending their hostile 4-year co-op of the Stone name. Cheers to our fans, friends, and supporters who believe in the good that craft beer brings”

Certainly an underdog victory. Keystone produced about 200 times as many beers as Stone Brewing in 2020. In its initial complaint, Stone Brewing claimed that this advertising campaign was part of Keystone’s strategy of a pincer move against the rising competition of craft beer and Stone Brewing in particular.

In 2021, craft brewer volume sales grew by 8%, raising small and independent brewers’ share of the U.S. beer market by volume to 13.1%. Craft beer is known for superior flavor and unique ingredients as compared to the usual beer you find at the supermarket. Molson Coors’ branding of their Keystone Light as “Stone” may have been an attempt of riding off Stone Brewing’s higher quality brand. And that’s where Stone Brewing’s trademark rights kicked in.

Special thanks to our Law Clerk, David Stewart, for the drafting of this blog post.