Which 'Stone' Will Win? Stone Brewing's Lawsuit Claiming Keystone Light's Cans Confuse Customers Goes to Court

The California craft brewery first filed its lawsuit in 2018 after Keystone cans were rebranded to feature the world "stone" more prominently.

Aluminum beer cans
Photo: Getty Images

They say any publicity is good publicity — and four years ago, when the popular craft beer brand Stone said they were suing the "big beer" brand Keystone Light for their use of the word "stone," at first, it seemed like just that… a chance to get a bit of publicity by calling out one of America's largest brewing companies. But for anyone who has lost track, this week, the case has actually gone to court.

The issue began in 2017 when Keystone Light — formerly owned by MillerCoors which has since become Molson Coors — changed the packaging of their budget light beer to move the "Key" to the side of the can leaving the "Stone" prominently alone. The California-based craft brewery Stone took offense to this rebranding, saying they control the trademark to the term "Stone" for beer, and eventually sued the larger beer company.

On Monday, the trial began in U.S. District Court in San Diego. In the lawsuit, which was filed In 2018 and has been delayed numerous times before finally going to trial, Stone seeks damages for trademark dilution and unfair competition, according to The San Diego Union-Tribune.

According to Mercury News, Stone is looking to prove that Keystone's rebrand resulted in financial damage to Stone Brewing, with the craft brewery arguing that, after the rebrand, Keystone Light sales went up while Stone Brewing sales declined. A pretrial brief reportedly states that MillerCoors went so far as to try to trademark the rights to the term "Stone" through the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, but was denied due to the similarity to Stone Brewing, yet MillerCoors still decided to move forward with the rebrand regardless.

"In 2017, MillerCoors elected to pursue by brute marketing force what it could not do legally through the USPTO," the brief is quoted as saying. "It rebranded the product itself, deciding that Keystone Light's new name in the marketplace would be 'Stone.'"

Adding insult to injury, Stone alleges MillerCoors even took the unpopular decision directly to the home of Stone Brewing. "MillerCoors' marketing agency designed a series of billboards to be erected directly next to Stone's Escondido headquarters, taunting Stone about the intentional misappropriation of its brand name," the brief reportedly continues.

In their defense, Martin Maloney, a Molson Coors spokesman, told the Union-Tribune, "Stone Brewing's claims have been wildly unfounded from the get-go… We have used our Keystone trademark appropriately and look forward to proving that in court."

But even a U.S. district judge apparently believed the case won't be cut and dry, with court documents reportedly stating that the judge called it "one of the most contentious cases I've ever experienced, and I have had trademark/trade name cases before."

Maria Stipp, chief executive of Stone Brewing, also emphasized that the seminal craft brewer, which was founded in 1996, takes this case very seriously. "It is a really important trial for us," she told the Tribune. "Keystone has rebranded their beer 'Stone' since 2017. That is a long time to be sitting on our name. I think we have plenty of proof points that talk about consumer confusion and retailer confusion and distributor confusion."

Was this page helpful?
Related Articles