Stone Brewing, Fresh Off Trademark Win Against Keystone, Sued For Blatant TM Infringement
from the worth-the-squeeze dept
You may have heard that Stone Brewing Co., once a scion and protector of the craft beer industry, won a trademark lawsuit against Molson Coors due to the latter’s rebranding of its “Keystone” brand to more prominently feature the word “STONE” on cans and labels. We didn’t write about the case, though that doesn’t mean I didn’t have opinions on the matter. Frankly, I found the whole thing quite silly. Craft beer buyers, or fans of Stone Brewing, weren’t suddenly going to think that a Keystone beer was from Stone Brewing because it had a big “STONE” on the can. Especially when the word “KEY” was still on the labels and the rest of the trade dress was notably different. And, yet, a jury awarded Stone Brewing $56 million for this “infringement.”
What is notable about all of that is that Stone Brewing publicized the win by claiming that it was a craft brewer fighting a big, evil macrobrewery. Evil was a word the company specifically used. Stone has also long touted itself as a stalwart force against big, evil companies in the beer space. And that’s something Sycamore Brewing decided to highlight in its lawsuit against Stone Brewing for what sure looks like an absolute blatant infringement of Sycamore’s very valid trademarks.
How blatant? Well, Sycamore makes Juiciness IPA and has a registered trademark on the beer’s slogan: KEEP IT JUICY. That was established in 2020. And, yet, Stone Brewing, protectors of all things the little guy and trademarks, did this:
The imagery on the right is featured very prominently on Stone’s Hazy IPA brand, both on the beer packaging as well as on the brewery’s website. I’m not usually on the side shouting about real infringement on trademark issues, never-mind in the beer industry, but here we are. These are two companies that are operating in the same geographical markets, in the same market type, and the use is blatantly infringing. It’s the same slogan. Even the style in its delivery are quite similar. Unless Stone manages to somehow unearth a hitherto unseen trademark registration for the phrase that existed prior to Sycamore’s, this appears to be as open and shut as it gets in trademark law.
What gets more interesting is how the legal team for Sycamore used its lawsuit to absolutely torch Stone Brewing for its hypocritical IP practices.
Stone is a craft beer pioneer. Every craft brewery in the world owes a debt to Stone for evangelizing craft beer at a time when most of the United States thought beer choices extended no further than Budweiser and Coors. To say Stone has helped invent the modern craft beer experience is in no way a stretch. Stone innovated beer styles that are still used by nearly every brewery on the planet. It afforded new breweries visions of themselves unbound from the limitations of “micro” and enlightened by a consumer exploring the vastness of “craft.”
But, as Stone grew larger and larger, it lost its way. While it used to preach the gospel of “community” in craft beer, it now seeks to damage smaller breweries by filing questionable trademark actions against them and to steal the trademarks of those smaller breweries it believes will not fight back. Sycamore is fighting back. Stone stole Sycamore’s registered KEEP IT JUICY trademark. Unlike the dubious trademark disputes Stone initiates, this case is based upon an actual trademark inarguably owned by Sycamore that Stone is using for the exact same purpose in the exact same markets. So, Sycamore will fight to maintain ownership of its trademark and brand. And, as it does so, it hopes to remind Stone that its existence used to be good for the craft beer industry before Stone decided that competition and innovation were things to damage, not celebrate.
As far as polemic prose goes in a legal filing, that’s about as good as it gets. And it is sadly true, but also a good medium for a craft brewery to whip up public support against the story that a trademark bully likes to tell the public. Stone isn’t a champion of the craft brewing industry and hasn’t been for a long, long time. It can couch its win against Molson Coors as a David v. Goliath scenario all it wants, but it’s a half-truth at best.
And, as always, if you’re going to live by the IP bully, you can die by the IP bully as well.