ESCONDIDO — Stone Brewing published a lengthy statement on its website Monday night regarding its trademark dispute with Sawstone Brewing Co. in Morehead, Ky., saying that Stone has become the “subject of a vicious online harassment and smear campaign.”
Initial reports said that Stone Brewing issued a “cease and desist” to Sawstone Brewing for their use of the word “stone” in the brewery’s name.
Derek Caskey, Sawstone co-founder and co-owner, told The Coast News that they had actually received a Petition for Cancellation (not a cease and desist) back in March from Stone, whose reasoning was that the name would cause “consumer confusion.”
Sawstone, a small 3bbl brewery that opened in August 2019, has seven employees including its three founders. The word “Sawstone” apparently comes from the brewery’s building, one of the only historical limestone buildings left in Ky.
“It absolutely came as a shock… I’ve been drinking and supporting Stone beer since I was legally allowed to drink. I love their beer. I was aware of their lawsuit with MillerCoors and I was on Stone’s side,” Caskey said. “I understand the problem with what Keystone was doing, but it was a total surprise for us to get a request for cancellation because it felt like we weren’t doing anything—we’re not even distributing. The only place you can get our beer is our taproom.”
Caskey was referring to Stone’s ongoing claim against Keystone of MillerCoors that started in 2018 with Keystone’s use of the word “Stone,” which was laid out independently from “Key” on packaging and advertising.
“In early talks with our attorney, they said if we wanted to keep our name then we couldn’t distribute nationally, which we didn’t align with, “Caskey said. “Speaking as a small-business owner, I’m barely able to pay myself let alone an attorney, so yeah it’s frightening… It just seems kind of counterproductive to their message of ‘standing up to big beer.’”
Sawstone has since set up a GoFundMe, which has already raised more than $13,500 for legal fees.
Stone has drawn criticism from many in the beer community who are calling the claim against Sawstone hypocritical as Stone prides itself on being the “antithesis to ‘Big Beer.’”
This isn’t the only trademark dispute that Stone Brewing is currently involved with. A review of public records from the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) reveals that Stone has also issued similar trademark cancellation requests in roughly 100 other instances.
In a newly published statement, Greg Koch, the CEO of Stone Brewing, acknowledged the company’s multiple trademark disputes, noting that “this kind of thing is just part of owning a brand name and a company identity,” but he claimed that Sawstone’s version of events is not how the situation unfolded.
Koch said that it all started when “a company called Local Pioneers…in Kentucky filed a registration attempt for ‘Sawstone Brewing Co.’”
The statement added that the Stone trademark is “legally incontestable… a status reserved for the longest-standing trademarks,” noting that they were surprised that Local Pioneers had attempted to register “Sawstone Brewing Co.”
Koch went on to lay out a basic timeline of events:
On May 22: Our trademark attorney had a phone call with Local Pioneers’ lawyer to discuss scheduling and settlement possibilities. Local Pioneers said they were putting together a settlement proposal and would send it over. They did not send it.
June 18 – July 8: Local Pioneers missed the deadline ordered by the Trademark Trial & Appeal Board to identify their evidence regarding the SAWSTONE mark. We waited an additional three weeks to give them an opportunity to get these materials together but didn’t receive them. We then finally filed a motion to compel on July 8. On July 10, our counsel received an email from Local Pioneers’ lawyers saying they would be making a settlement proposal soon. (They also suggested we put the entire proceeding on hold, but our counsel said they wanted to see the settlement proposal first.)
On Friday, July 17, Local Pioneers’ lawyers emailed to say they would be making a settlement proposal the following week. Then the harassment and false statements etc. started over the weekend…and on into the following week.
Koch said that Stone has since become the “subject of a vicious online harassment and smear campaign… that included cyber- and cell phone stalking and harassment, complete with personal threats to [him] and employees, fraudulent reviews of [Stone’s] locations on well-known review sites… and wildly false claims about Stone.”
This led Stone to send a cease and desist letter to Sawstone just last week asking them to “stop the false statements against Stone.”
The statement further described how several of Stone’s employees have received repeated, profanity-laced calls, voicemails, texts and social media messages, even in the middle of the night, from anonymous Ky. phone numbers.
Koch then criticized Sawstone for setting up the GoFundMe and alleged that Sawstone may have launched an online merchandise store to further capitalize on the situation.
As for the trademark dispute, Koch said that Stone will not back down and that the decision will ultimately lie with the USPTO.