Trademark Disputes Continue to Brew
Salvation. The name of two intricate Belgian-style ales, created by us, Vinnie Cilurzo of Russian River Brewing and Adam Avery of Avery Brewing. After becoming friends a few years ago, we realized we both had a Salvation in our lineups. Was it going to be a problem? Should one of us relinquish the name rights? “Hell, no!” we said. In fact, it was quickly decided that we should blend the brews to catch the best qualities of each and create an even more complex and rich libation. In April 2004, in a top secret meeting at Russian River Brewing, we came up with the perfect blend of the two Salvations.
That, according to Avery Brewing Co., is how Collaboration Not Litigation Ale came into existence.
But the beer industry is not always so adept at avoiding the courtroom when it comes to trademark disputes. Particularly with the explosion of the craft brewing industry in recent years, and the ever-increasingly creative names to come out of that market, legal disputes over beer trademarks are a dime a dozen. The latest of these lawsuits to reach trial resulted in significantly more than a dime’s worth of recovery for craft brewer Stone Brewing.
Stone Brewing has used STONE as a trademark since the early 1990s, and has since become the largest brewery in Southern California and ninth largest craft brewery in the U.S. Fast forward to 2017, when MillerCoors rebranded Keystone Light beer to feature the word STONE printed in large script across its cans. In 2018, Stone Brewing sued MillerCoors in the Southern District of California, alleging trademark infringement, dilution, and unfair competition. According to Stone Brewing, MillerCoors’s decision to rebrand followed years of declining sales of Keystone Light, and resulting consumer confusion led to a 20 percent decline in sales for Stone Brewing, amounting to $174 million in lost profits. Stone Brewing also sought an additional $41 million for corrective advertising.
MillerCoors argued that “Stone” has long been part of its marketing for Keystone Light, and that consumers were unlikely to confuse Stone Brewing’s craft beers with a “budget beer” like Keystone. MillerCoors also argued that it had no intent to trade off goodwill associated with Stone Brewing’s STONE trademark.
Following a three-week trial, the jury found MillerCoors liable for trademark infringement. Although the jury did not find that MillerCoors’s infringement was willful, it nevertheless awarded Stone Brewing $56 million in damages.
The story doesn’t end there, however. The parties both filed motions for judgment as a matter of law following the trial, which are pending. And to reinforce that brewery trademark wars are here to stay, last week Stone Brewing found itself on the receiving end of a trademark infringement action brought by Sycamore Brewing in the Western District of North Carolina, alleging that Stone Brewing “stole Sycamore’s registered KEEP IT JUICY trademark.” Crack open a couple of cold ones with us as we watch how these disputes continue to unfold.