Stone/MillerCoors Battle Update #2: Summary Judgment

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Back in 2018 (seems like a decade ago during these unusual times), I posted a couple times about a trademark infringement complaint by Stone Brewing, a craft brewery in California, against MillerCoors. The complaint alleged that the rebranded cans and packaging of the Keystone beer, which added separate emphasis of the word “STONE,” infringed Stone Brewing’s registered rights to its “STONE” trademark for beer.

In the couple years since my last post, the parties have been duking it out in discovery. The contentious nature of the dispute, already evident in the complaint and answer, continued escalating in discovery. Last year, discovery sanctions were imposed against MillerCoors when the court determined that MillerCoors withheld relevant marketing materials that should have been produced.

More recently, the parties both filed motions for summary judgment, which had the potential to end the case. Neither party prevailed, however, as the court granted in part and denied in part both parties’ motions earlier this year. The most significant issues raised in the motions were Stone Brewing’s trademark infringement claim, MillerCoors’s laches defense, and MillerCoors’s claim of prior use of STONE.

The court denied Stone Brewing’s motion for summary judgment on its trademark infringement claim. Some of the court’s analysis favored Stone Brewing, and the court even observed that summary judgment “[was] a close call.” But the court ultimately concluded that the fact-intensive issue of a likelihood of confusion “should be answered … by a jury” at trial.

The court granted Stone Brewing’s motion for summary judgment on MillerCoors’s laches defense (unreasonable delay in bringing the lawsuit), concluding that laches cannot apply to Stone Brewing’s lawsuit filed in 2018 because the infringement claim accrued only a year prior in 2017, when the Keystone packaging was rebranded.

MillerCoors argued in its motion that it had established priority, based on its use of “STONE” for beer since 1991. The court denied the motion, concluding that disputed factual issues remained concerning whether “STONE” was continuously used as a trademark by MillerCoors prior to 2017, whether there was a 14-year gap in the alleged use of STONE by MillerCoors, and whether the MillerCoors marketing materials containing “STONE” were ever used in commerce.

With neither party obtaining a complete victory on summary judgment, the case is headed to trial this October, unless the parties settle before then. There is a lot at stake, with Stone Brewing seeking to recover $1 billion in damages based on the alleged infringing sales of Keystone beer.

We’ll see what happens in the next couple months before trial. In the meantime, if you want to taste what this trademark fight is all about at your next virtual happy hour, Stone Brewing’s well-reviewed STONE IPA is available at Total Wine (and so is Keystone, if you’d like to check out the disputed packaging). Cheers, and stay tuned for updates.

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