Why Molson Coors Just Lost A $56 Million Lawsuit

Multinational brewing company Molson Coors will have to pay $56 million to Stone Brewing following the conclusion of an ongoing trademark infringement case that had been brought against the brand in 2018, according to Reuters. Stone Brewing, a craft brewery based in San Diego, California, alleged that Molson Coors, which manufactures Keystone beer, rebranded its product in what Stone Brewing co-founder Greg Koch called a "hostile 4-year co-op of the Stone name," per ABC 8 News.

In 2018, Molson Coors changed the branding and packaging of Keystone beer to simply "STONE." Stone Brewing alleged this move could cause consumer confusion between Keystone and its own flagship beers, which are trademarked with the word "stone." The craft beer brand, which produces 0.5% of the volume of beer manufactured by Molson Coors each year, claimed that the multinational company was infringing on its consumer territory, since people were unlikely to realize a difference between the two beers due to the similar branding. Stone Brewing filed a lawsuit against Molson Coors with the U.S. District Court in the Southern District of California for "trademark infringement and unfair competition" (via ABC 10News San Diego).

A jury ruled that the Keystone rebrand caused consumer confusion

On March 25, a California jury ruled in favor of Stone Brewing following a three-week trial. While the jury determined that Molson Coors did not "purposefully" infringe on the smaller brewery's trademark, they did ultimately decide that the company should pay $56 million in damages to Stone Brewing, as Reuters reported. Between 2018 and 2022, Molson Coors sold $1.7 billion worth of the rebranded Keystone beer.

Molson Coors disagreed with the verdict, saying it may pursue 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," a Molson Coors spokesperson stated. Representatives for Stone Brewing, meanwhile, were pleased with the verdict, calling it an "underdog win" and "a victory for every craft brewery that prides itself in independence" (via ABC 8 News).