What can a little company do when a big company infringes on their trademark?

What can a little company do when a big company infringes on their trademark?

A trademark is a symbol placed on a product to indicate who produced the product.  A trademark can be a picture, word or short phrase.  A trademark owner is granted the exclusive right to use the trademark on its products.  When a second person starts using a trademark on a product that is known as trademark infringement.  A trademark owner can stop trademark infringement by filing a lawsuit.  The trademark owner can get an injunction to prevent future trademark infringement and can get monetary damages from trademark infringers.

The rationale behind trademark law is consumer protection.  Trademark owners are granted the right to prevent trademark infringement to protect consumers from inferior goods.  Trademark law assumes that the only trademarks worth infringing are the trademarks of superior quality products.  Trademark infringers will attempt to trick consumers into purchasing low quality products by placing the popular trademark on the infringer’s products.  There is little point to putting someone else’s trademark on your product if it will decrease the value of the product.

The trademarks of big companies are typically the most famous trademarks.  Big companies have larger advertising budgets to promote their trademarks to consumers.  For this reason the trademarks of big companies are typically the target of trademark infringers.  However, sometimes big companies will attempt to claim a trademark as their own to try to draw loyal customers away from a small company.  A case which illustrates this is:  Stone Brewing v. Molson Coors Brewing 3:18-cv-00331-BEN-JMA.

Stone Brewing is a craft brewery that prides itself on making a quality beer with quality ingredients.  Stone Brewing has registered the trademark STONE with the United States Patent and Trademark Office.  Molson Coors Brewing is a large multinational brewer that has a number of different popular beverages.  Molson Coors has a beer called Keystone, which has been shortened to Stone on product packaging and in advertisements.  Stone Brewing feels that shortening Keystone to Stone infringes on Stone Brewing’s trademark rights.

Stone Brewing sued Molson Coors in the United States District Court Southern District of California for Trademark Infringement, False Designation of Origin, Trademark Dilution and Unfair Competition.  In its complaint, Stone Brewing alleges that there is a battle going on between small craft breweries and large multinational conglomerates.  A number of craft breweries in the United States have been purchased by large multinational conglomerates in the past decade.  Stone Brewing has refused offers to be purchased.  Stone Brewing claims that Molson Coors is attempting to confuse consumers into thinking that the beer formerly known as Keystone is a product of Stone Brewing so that more consumers will purchase Keystone.

Stone Brewing also notes in its complaint that Molson Coors attempted to register a trademark on the word Stone in 2007.  The United States Patent and Trademark Office refused to grant Molson Coors trademark application because Stone Brewing had filed the appropriate paperwork to make their trademark incontestable.  Molson Coors then abandoned the trademark application instead of attempting to fight the United States Patent and Trademark Office.

This will be an interesting case to watch.  Frequently trademark cases are settled before there is a judgement, but that is unlikely in this case.  Stone Brewing is run by very passionate people that feel their livelihood is under attack, it is unlikely they will accept a settlement on principal.  Molson Coors has invested a significant amount of money in product packaging and advertising, it is unlikely they want to destroy all the infringing products.  We will have to wait and see what the outcome will be.

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