The internet had a lot of fun with Stone Brewing CEO Greg Koch’s video proclaiming his company’s lawsuit against MillerCoors concerning its branding of Keystone Light. The internet includes us, and our post about the announcement. Amid our usual snark, we included some quick hitting thoughts from Brendan Palfreyman on Twitter, posted some hopefully helpful links to trademark advice from our archives and then figured we’d sit back and wait to see how this played out like everyone.
But for those interested in more speculation and legalese on the potential outcomes of this case, we wanted to point you to this post on the intellectual property blog IPWatchdog by Cliff Kuehn, a trademark attorney in San Francisco.
At its core, the complaint alleges obfuscation of the term STONE in the world of beer and the consequent loss of Stone’s brand identity. At first glance the facts are presented in a compelling way. Keystone beers have always been advertised with the terms “KEYSTONE” or “KEYSTONE LIGHT” unambiguously appearing on its beer products and product packaging. STONE branded beers entered the market after the KEYSTONE brand and, despite this, have grown to prominence within the “craft” brew sub-category of beers. Sales of KEYSTONE beers declined while sales of STONE grew, and then a rebranding of the former focused on STONE-formative text and images: cans visually emphasizing the word STONE while separating and minimizing the term KEY; promotional slogans such as “Let it ‘Stone”, “‘Stone sweet ‘Stone”, and “A STONE SO SMOOTH, IT NEVER CUTS CORNERS”. Following this path, there seems to be some connection between the two. But do the factual allegations, if proven, justify a preliminary injunction or treble damages as requested?
Kuehn sets the stage for the two most important things to watch in this decision: 1) the likelihood of irreparable harm and 2) the likelihood of confusion and treble damages. That last one seemed particularly juicy and involves the possibility of the rarely seen “willful infringement.” Any legal nerds out there should head to IPWatchdog to get the full context.