Stone Brewing Co. LLC v. Molson Coors Brewing Company – Trademark Infringement Ruling Brewery Battle Serves as Important Reminders for Trademark Owners – Trademark
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On March 25, 2022, after a contentious four-year court battle, a jury awarded Stone Brewing Co. $56 million in damages against beer conglomerate MillerCoors, now Molson Coors, finding that MillerCoors infringed on the STONE trademark. craft brewery. Although Stone Brewing initially sought $256 million in damages, brewery co-founder Greg Koch celebrated the verdict as a major victory, calling it “a historic day for Stone Brewing and for the coffee industry.” craft beer”. For trademark owners, this decision highlights the importance of protecting their trademark rights.
Stone Brewing first sued for trademark infringement in 2018, alleging that MillerCoors intended to forfeit the goodwill and recognition of Stone Brewing’s STONE trademark when it renamed its Keystone beer to emphasize the word “stone”. Indeed, MillerCoors’ rebranding changed the overall appearance of the word “keystone” on its packaging and advertising, separating the words “key” from “stone” and making the word “stone” more prominent. Notably, this trademark change came after MillerCoors attempted to register the trademark STONES in connection with its beer in 2007. The United States Patent and Trademark Office rejected this trademark application on the grounds that there was a risk of confusion with Stone Brewing’s STONE recording. Stone Brewing pointed to this attempted registration as evidence that MillerCoors’ subsequent rebranding was a willful infringement.
MillerCoors has vehemently denied allegations that it infringed Stone Brewing’s trademark rights, arguing that it used “stone” as a nickname on packaging and in advertising for its Keystone beer. before Stone Brewery began to use this word as a trademark. However, testimony during the trial revealed that MillerCoors’ early use of the word “stone” was inconsistent and that the company often used “stones” instead of “stone”. MillerCoors also rejected allegations that it deliberately intended to sacrifice Stone Brewing’s goodwill, saying its Keystone beer is a budget beer, which is not competitive with Stone Brewing’s craft beer.
Although the jury was not persuaded by MillerCoors’ arguments, it found that MillerCoors’ infringement was not deliberate. After the verdict, a spokesperson for MillerCoors released a statement that the court had yet to resolve several defenses raised by the company and that the company was evaluating its appeal options.
This case highlights two critical trademark issues for trademark owners to keep in mind. First, since trademark rights arise from use of the mark in commerce, sporadic or inconsistent use of the mark can compromise those rights. Second, this case illustrates the important concept of reverse confusion. This type of consumer confusion usually occurs when a large company (the junior user) starts using a mark already used by a small company (the senior user) and uses the mark so widely that it floods the market. Even if the junior user does not necessarily intend to sacrifice the goodwill of the senior user, its extensive use causes consumers to confuse the source of the senior user’s products and, therefore, the user senior loses brand value and control. rights. Given the serious implications of reverse confusion, as illustrated by the damages awarded to Stone Brewing, companies must carefully consider reverse confusion when making trademark decisions.
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