$56m jury verdict upheld against Molson Coors in trademark tussle with craft brewer

Stone Brewing prevails in trademark infringement battle with beer giant

Molson Coors beer trademark in dispute

A Federal district court has upheld a $56m jury verdict in favour of craft brewer Stone Brewing in its trademark tussle with Molson Coors (previously MillerCoors).

A jury had previously awarded Stone Brewing $56m in damages in March 2022 after finding defendant Molson Coors had infringed on its STONE trademark.

US district judge Roger Benitez at the Southern District of California heard Molson Coors’ motion for judgment as a “matter of law” or a new trial and Stone Brewing’s motion for partial new trial on 6 September; he has now denied both motions.

California-based Stone Brewing sued what was then MillerCoors in 2018, arguing that its Keystone beers heavily relied on the word “stone” without the “key” causing consumer confusion and infringing on its trademarks.

When considering Molson Coors call for a retrial, Judge Benitez found Molson Coors’s use of the STONE trademark was “nearly identical” to Stone’s. The court ruled that “while MillerCoors argues that STONE never appeared alone on any packaging, it cannot deny or downplay the affect of de-emphasising the full ‘Keystone’ mark in favour of emphasising ‘a single, heroic element’”. 

The judge found that the evidence presented at trial showed “actual confusion… including examples from retailers and distributors” and that this supported the jury’s award of damages to Stone.

The judge also denied Stone Brewing’s motion for partial new trial. Stone argued Molson Coors was allowed to use “attorney-client privilege as both a sword and a shield at trial to Stone’s prejudice”, and this consequently unfairly affected part of the jury’s verdict.

Judge Benitez, however, said: “Stone does not adequately explain why the evidentiary errors it identifies equate to prejudice warranting the court setting aside part of the jury’s binding verdict but at the same time, does not rise to the level of warranting a new jury trial.”

A Stone spokesperson stated: “We are pleased that the district court upheld the jury’s verdict. Stone continues to lead through its brand and reputation for quality beer. There is and can be only one ‘STONE’ in beer, and Molson Coors should never have attempted to infringe the STONE trademark. With this final word from the District Court, we hope that everyone can put an end to the legal battles and return to making beer under their own name.”

Post-judgment interest on the amount of the judgment accrues on an ongoing basis, with the amount now exceeding $58m.

Noah Hagey, Doug Curran, Jeff Theodore and Forrest Hainline of BraunHagey & Borden represented Stone Brewing. Molson Coors was represented by Jon Bunge and Dan Lombard of Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan, and by Kent Goss and Valerie Goo of Crowell & Moring.

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