Molson Coors owes Stone Brewing $56 mln over 'Stone' branding - jury

A tour bus is parked outside the Coors brewery in Golden
A tour bus is parked outside the Coors brewery in Golden, Colorado February 12, 2014. REUTERS/Rick Wilking/File Photo
  • Stone accused Molson of confusing customers with Keystone rebrand
  • Molson's branding infringed Stone trademarks, jury finds

(Reuters) - A San Diego federal jury said Friday that Molson Coors must pay craft brewery Stone Brewing $56 million for causing consumer confusion with ads for its Keystone brand.

Molson Coors' branding infringes Stone Brewing's "Stone" trademark, the jury said after a three-week trial. It also found that Molson Coors did not infringe purposefully.

A Stone Brewing spokesperson confirmed the $56 million award.

Molson Coors spokesperson Marty Maloney said in a statement that the court still had to resolve several defenses raised by the company and that it was considering its options for an appeal.

"What we learned through this trial is that Stone Brewing’s lawsuit was not driven by consumer confusion and that Stone Brewing has a $464 million debt to pay to their private equity investors in 2023," Maloney said.

Stone Brewing cofounder Greg Koch said in a press release that it was a "historic day for Stone Brewing, and for the craft beer industry."

Escondido, California-based Stone Brewing, one of the United States' largest craft breweries, sued Molson in 2018, arguing its focus on the words "Stone" and "Stones" without "Key" in advertising Keystone Light and other Keystone beers infringed the brewery's trademarks.

Stone Brewing told the court that Molson Coors had been losing significant market share to craft breweries, and rebranded Keystone to capitalize on Stone Brewing's goodwill.

Molson argued that its beer would not confuse ordinary customers and that it has used "Stone" in reference to Keystone since before Stone Brewing was founded in 1996.

U.S. District Judge Roger Benitez rejected Stone's bid for a preliminary block on Molson Coors' ads in 2019 but called Stone's case "moderately strong" at the time.

The case is Stone Brewing Co v. Molson Coors Brewing Co, U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California, No. 3:18-cv-00331.

For Stone: Noah Hagey and Doug Curran of BraunHagey & Borden

For Molson Coors: Jon Bunge and Daniel Lombard of Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan, Kent Goss and Valerie Goo of Crowell & Moring

Read more:

Craft beer co denied injunction in brewing trademark spat with MillerCoors

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Thomson Reuters

Blake Brittain reports on intellectual property law, including patents, trademarks, copyrights and trade secrets, for Reuters Legal. He has previously written for Bloomberg Law and Thomson Reuters Practical Law and practiced as an attorney. Contact: 12029385713