In Response To The Wildly Irresponsible Actions of Local Pioneers / Sawstone Brewing

I’d actually recommend you not bother to read this. Sure, it’s got some schadenfreude, but your average ‘Karen’ or ‘Ken’ video is probably more entertaining. Your choice. Stuff needed to get down in pixels for the record, so that’s what this is for.

Some people say that I’m an asshole. Others credit me (and Stone) with being one of the most positive influences in the story arc that is the craft beer revolution. I’ve been called an idiot. A shaggy stoner. Just go to the Comments section of, well pretty much anywhere, and you’ll see a range of lovely feedback.

When I look in the mirror, I just see a passionate beer geek that’s willing to speak up from time to time and share my truth. When you do that, not everyone’s going to like it. And if you’re not getting criticism, sometimes vociferous criticism, then you’re probably not doing much.

Anyway, over the last week or so, much ado has been made over our attempt to protect our name, Stone Brewing Co., and our registered trademarks.  

And this ‘much ado’ involved a LOT of vociferous accusations and name calling.  For good reason and based in truth you ask?  While ‘the truth’ is hardly a common goal for our internet culture today, grab the popcorn and I’ll give you that answer.

This may or may not supply you a rage dopamine hit. (Some of you might have arrived here with a full mug of it, sipping away as you read. You go.)

What I’m talking about is the coordinated harassment campaign aimed at our company, me personally, our locations, and wide range of our employees by a brewery in Eastern Kentucky that has been using the name Sawstone Brewing Co.  They say they opened a little under a year ago (August 2019). Until a week ago, I’d never heard of ‘em.

When I did learn of them for the first time, it was to learn that they were mad. Very mad. That they’d felt that they’d been wronged.

The issue you see, was over our trademark.  And our need to protect it.  As a result, we became the worst ogre ever in the minds of some of their folks.

This whole hullabaloo has come as quite a surprise to us (not just me).  You see, over the years, when someone attempts to register a name/trademark related to beer that we believe is confusingly similar to ours, we regularly file an objection to that registration with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.  It’s a routine part of doing business and being a trademark owner.  

Usually, this just happens behind the scenes with the trademark folks and more often than not, we reach an amicable agreement with the other party so we can all continue to focus on our businesses.  

It’s not unheard of for us to have beers together and develop friendships. A tiny slice however decide that they instead want to try and cry foul.  It’s a very tiny slice, and this is one of those. 

Forget the popcorn, this story calls for a beer.

A little while ago a company called Local Pioneers (BTW, we think Local Pioneers is a pretty cool name) in Kentucky filed a registration attempt for “SAWSTONE BREWING CO.”   Now ladies and gents, it doesn’t take a lot of super close looking to plainly see our STONE BREWING CO. in SAWSTONE BREWING CO. — the last fourteen of their seventeen letters identically match our name.  We’d be pretty amazed if Local Pioneers didn’t spot it before attempting their filing, but in any case, it’s right there.  

When such an issue comes up, and you might be surprised how often it does, lawyers that handle our trademark stuff routinely communicate back to the US Patent & Trademark Office (USPTO) that we’re the owners of our trademark, and that we object to the registration of other marks that are confusingly similar.  Like it or not, this is the system in the US (and most of the modern world) in the realm of trademarks.

In these circumstances, we invariably attempt to resolve things amicably, as we’ve done dozens of times over the last couple decades.  This isn’t our first rodeo.

We’ve been brewing beer under the STONE® mark for over two decades — beginning when there were a lot fewer craft brewers out there — and this kind of thing is just part of owning a brand name and a company identity.  Indeed, we’ve had to frequently stand up to big beer bullies who have tried to steal our name (we hope for Local Pioneers’ sake that they never have to deal with an actual real bully).  We’d rather just be brewing beer but we have to protect our name — just like all businesses (breweries or otherwise).  Because we’ve done the work to protect our name, our STONE® mark is legally incontestable (sounds pretty cool doesn’t it), a status reserved for the longest-standing trademarks. We’re also proud owners of a bunch of other marks using STONE®. Short story, we’ve put in the time and the work.  We are the sole owner of STONE® as a trademark for beer.

Based on all this, we were surprised that Local Pioneers attempted to register “SAWSTONE BREWING CO.” with the USPTO.  Maybe Local Pioneers hadn’t heard of us?  Maybe they got bad advice from their lawyers?  But they certainly should have noticed our prior registrations on the USPTO’s website and the fact that we are known for taking the necessary steps to protect our marks.

In any case, after we saw Local Pioneers’ registration, we filed what’s called a “Petition for Cancellation” with the USPTO. The Petition for Cancellation said that Local Pioneers’ “SAWSTONE BREWING CO.” mark should not be registered because it infringes Stone’s trademarks, including STONE®, STONE BREWING® and numerous others.  Our Petition with the USPTO gives us a say in the process and sets the stage for a dialogue with Local Pioneers. 

It’s important to set the record straight here with simple facts:

  • We did not sue Local Pioneers in any court.  
  • We did not send them a Cease & Desist letter.  
  • We did not make any threats.  
  • We didn’t kick their dog, try to take their lunch money or say stuff about their moms (although, weirdly, someone claiming to be the mother of one of the owners of Local Pioneers did take to my IG account and barrage me with some pretty awful name calling, so there’s that. I decided that my best response was…BLOCK.)
  • We did do the bare minimum to protect our name and attempted to resolve the issue politely.

Although we’re sure they’d make some issue with the fifth bullet point, the first four are irrefutable facts.

Again, in the goal to share these simple facts, here’s a timeline from recent months:

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.

On Monday, July 20, I personally heard the word “Sawstone” for the first time when some folks began making accusatory and nasty inflammatory comments on my IG account.

So, as you can see, Sawstone told us they would be making a proposal to work this out.  Then weeks…a month…then more…passed and nothing.  

Then, Bam. Out of the clear blue, we became the subject of a vicious online harassment and smear campaign — one that was so far removed from the facts of what had actually happened that it even falsely accused us of having sent more than a hundred cease and desist letters this year. 

This campaign also included cyber- and cell phone stalking and harassment, complete with personal threats to me and employees, fraudulent reviews of our locations on well-known review sites (enough to trigger their algorithms that identify cyber attacks) and wildly false claims about Stone.  

It’s OK, I can take it, but far more disturbing and reprehensible has been the phone and online attacks against some of our individual team members who have nothing to do with this and, like me, didn’t even know about the issue previously.  

Local Pioneers’ devotees riled up by lies bombarded individual Stone employees with repeated, profanity-laced calls, voicemails, texts, and social media messages.  One employee was subjected to repeated calls at 3am and 4am on his personal cell phone from anonymous Kentucky phone numbers threatening to “get” him.  Local Pioneers’ fans have exulted that they are “spreading [Stone employee’s] name like wildfire” and are “hoping [their] reputation goes up in smoke.”  

Talk about bullying. 

As if that wasn’t enough, Local Pioneers and/or their supporters have also threatened to ramp up this harassment campaign unless we walk away from our rightful trademark defense.  

I’ll let you decide the ethics of their wildly false accusations.  But it didn’t stop there. Using their  David vs. Goliath narrative, they even went so far as to set up a Go Fund Me account to ‘defend themselves’ from the big meanies at Stone.  We’ve also heard they launched an online merchandise store to capitalize on the dispute.

I don’t want to give away the ending here, but this ain’t gonna work. We will not succumb to mobocracy in an effort to try and force us to give up our rights. It. Won’t. Work.

Local Pioneers knows that we didn’t send any Cease & Desist letter (at least until last week, when we asked them to stop the false statements about Stone). We’ve not demanded that they stop selling their products, and we have not asked for a single cent from them.  Yet they’ve done nothing to halt the harassment and bullying of our team and the spreading of patently false accusations against us.

In all of our years, we’ve never seen anything like this, and we’re super dismayed by it. It does not reflect well on craft beer to say the least.

We pride ourselves on being craft beer diplomats.  We distribute nearly 50 incredible breweries and brands (some would say competitors, we say compatriots) in SoCal alone for Pete’s sake! We sell millions of cases of beer each year that are not even from our own brewery.

So while we would have loved to reach an amicable resolution with Local Pioneers…they’re in craft beer, so you’d think they’d be cool people amirite…them launching a public smear campaign based on false accusations is most assuredly not cool.  And it now leaves little to no room for civil discussions and potential resolution.  

Ultimately, the USPTO will decide whether Local Pioneers’ chosen name is too similar to ours — that’s what it does every day in thousands of similar trademark disputes.

We won’t be deterred from protecting our name, the one we’ve cultivated with blood, sweat, and tears over a couple of decades. There is plenty of existing evidence for the defense of our trademark…99% of the time which has contained nowhere near this level of drama. OK, it’s never contained this level of drama.

There have been plenty of our fans that have seen this and leapt to our defense knowing our track record, and that something in the story had to have been missing. Thank you. Your gut instinct was right.

To those that have so quickly jumped on the hatewagon, we understand that this type of pile-on can be seductive, and seeking such dopamine hits is an unfortunate sign of the times. All we can ask is that you take a deep breath and gather the actual facts rather than buying into this intentional misinformation campaign.  Our 24 year history contains a well documented friendly ethos in the world of craft brewing, environmentalism, social causes and community involvement. It’s all a simple Google search away and that ‘should’ be enough [here’s a link to make it even easier]. But if not, the simple logic of Occam’s Razor would rather handily suggest that it makes no fucking sense whatsoever for us to “go after” some random small 3bbl brewery in Eastern Kentucky, now does it? Let’s say that we were the meanies that they say we are…where’s the gain?  Alternatively, consider the simpler explanation – that we crossed paths with Local Pioneers because they tried to register a nationwide trademark using our name.  Local Pioneers could have done a name availability search back a year ago for maybe a couple hundred bucks. If that. But they put their Choose A Name cart before their Take A Moment And Look It Up First horse.  And here we are.

I guess the motto for 2020 is to never let a good conspiracy theory get less than an outsized amount of unresearched buy-in and attention.  Honestly, we have plenty to do without adding “being awful to the folks at Local Pioneers” to the list. Wish the same could be said about them.

And for those who have contributed to their GoFundMe campaign to the tune of (so far) $13,000+, you have the right to spend your money any way you damn well please, but allow me to politely suggest you consider asking them exactly what they intend to do with your cash.  Ditto for folks purchasing merchandise from their newly-created online store.

Look, I’m going to stop here.  By my nature, I’m slow to anger, but having to write this whole damn thing as a result of Local Pioneers’ trying put us in a corner with their misguided angry pitchfork mob is finally starting to piss me off.  I’ve written plenty to tell our side of the story, complete with all the bothersome facts Local Pioneers managed to leave out. Now I’m grabbing a fucking beer. Something tells me it’s going to taste even better than usual.

We hope that this will soon all be behind us.  Maybe, by the time you’re reading this, it will be water under the bridge and we’ll all be sharing a nice, cold beer.  Over Zoom. LOL. Whatever. Better than no beer at all.

Update 7/30/20

Putting aside our well-publicized disagreements with MillerCoors/MolsonCoors, we double checked and confirmed that we have sent a grand total of ONE Cease & Desist letter since January of 2019. 

That’s one, as a company, for any reason. For the past year and a half.

Well, until last week when we sent a Cease & Desist to Local Pioneers in an effort to get them to stop this aggressive misinformation campaign that was being waged against us. 

A Cease & Desist...or a lawsuit of any kind...is just not our thang and only an avenue of last resort for us. Mostly, we’ve been able to protect our trademark by having friendly conversations and working together to make great craft beer. I know that this additional fact may not dissuade some from continuing with the toxic attacks and falsely accusing us of being litigious all the same, but even you deserve to know the truth I guess.

Last, we’d politely request that our supporters please refrain from name calling or other attacks on the Local Pioneers folks. Yes, we appreciate your good words always. And yes, we believe that they are very much in the wrong with their approach to resolution of this whole affair. But just firing further negativity back just isn’t going to help resolve it, so let’s not.

signed, Greg Koch

Category: 

Comments

Susan's picture

These people sound like a bunch of twat thugs...

Charles McKeever's picture

Stone is the OG for a reason. Get over it and accept your daddy!

stephen owen's picture

Im glad I was privy to the read.It put things in perspective as to what owners of businesses have to do and when they have to do them.Two sides to every story as the saying goes and now I have both.I hope things work out for both parties involved in a fair and amicable resolution.

Randy Anderson's picture

It's a fun read Greg! Too bad you had to waste your time writing it however cathartic it might have been. Cheers!

Jim Tom Trent's picture

I appreciate your explanation of Stone's side of the issue. And I commend the entrepreneurial spirit of businesses like Stone Brewing and Sawstone Brewing. As the former Mayor of Morehead, Kentucky, Sawtone's home, I can assure you that the choice of their company name had absolutely nothing to do with Stone Brewing. Limestone is abundant in our part of the Kentucky and has been mined for years to use in the construction industry, especially in the late 1800s and early 1900s. It was harvested in those days by huge hand saws. In fact, the building where Sawstone calls home, was constructed of limestone when built in the early 1900s and is one of the few in tact historical buildings left in our town.
So you see, just like the name taken for their partnership, "Local Pioneers", the name Sawstone was chosen to pay homage and respect to our region. It most certainly was not created to infringe on or disparage the trade name of a large brewery in California.

In closing, might I suggest a SKYPE or ZOOM sit down with you and your group and the Sawstone owners to try and hash this out the old fashioned way. Maybe over a beer or two. Sure, the lawyers will need to do their thing, but only after the good men of both Stone and Sawstone come to a gentleman's agreement that is mutually beneficial to all. After all, isn't that the pioneer spirit?

Thank you for your time and attention to this matter.

Respectfully,

Jim Tom Trent

Leslie's picture

Hi Jim! I'm from the Midwest, too. Initially, I thought that Stone Brewing was being a bully as I bought into the misinformation.

However, as you may or may not know, when it comes to legalities, it's best left to the lawyers as there can be a lot of s/he said / s/he said and nothing is legally binding unless the lawyers get involved.

It sounds like Stone Brewing did what businesses do - protect their brand as a matter of rote. And it should have been a routine matter. It's unfortunate that Sawstone didn't get good legal counsel when putting together their business plan (which is WHEN trademark matters should be researched and resolved, not AFTER the business has already been running), but that's not Stone Brewery's fault.

It is also unfortunate that this matter seems to have escalated to the point where a good old fashioned sit-down between all parties (why do you assume they're all men?) will not resolve it.

The history is really cool and I agree that Sawstone Brewing Co. would be a great brewery name borrowing from local history. But the sad fact remains that its name is only 3/17 letters different than Stone Brewing Co. I suspect the USPTO will rule in favor of Stone.

It appears that Local Pioneers' lawyers dropped the ball on numerous occasions. If they are mad at ANYONE it should be their own lawyers. Personally, I'd fire the lot, take my licks, find a new name, and focus on the beer. Because that's the whole point, really, isn't it? Great beer?

Cheers.

Steve Beer's picture

No in their drunken minds would think that Sawstone Beer is similar to Stone Beer!

Compass Hernandez's picture

I live in KY, so I've had more or less a front row seat for this. I'm also a fan of Stone beers. (Heck, you actually tried one of my home brews at a bar in Louisville. You might not remember that, but I was tickled that you enjoyed it, Greg.) This is a maddening scene, and we even have another similar situation bubbling up in Louisville. Look up Butchertown Brewing, and you'll see a very similar story playing out. I have a friend who has asked me to write for his local beer website. If you'd be interested in having a talk about trademark issues for an article, you have my email address.

Keith Niedringhaus's picture

Good read... Laughed out loud a few times quite a storyteller beer Jesus!

...sipping on Stone IPA

Glenn 's picture

This is why you are STILL my favorite brewery.

Dean's picture

Hey is “Stoned Brewer Co.” Off limits too? Asking for a friend

Jane Lynch's picture

Considering how many people are behaving these days, I’m not surprised by their bad behavior. Stone is still one of my favorite IPAs. Thanks for your dedication, cheers!

Nick's picture

I’m with Stone

Rob's picture

IMO, Sawstone is not too close to Stone, if it was Stonesaw, maybe. Hope people stop acting irresponsibly so this situation gets resolved soon.

John's picture

Great read, and great honest response. Im curious what AB Inbev will do when Sawstone tries to patent Kentuckabudweiser or Sawstone light?

Calvin's picture

Leave no stone unturned?

Eric's picture

these rednecks obviously dont know how business is done in America. You can't use a name that's been trademarked already! THIS IS NORMAL IN AMERICA. If I tried to start a fast food chain called Donald's who sells burgers and fries, youre damn well sure that McDonald's would block it.

These kids in Kentucky are new to business, i get that. However they likely are not educated since they are going out of their way to harass the people at Stone. Don't hate the player, hate the game. This is how business has been done inAmerica for YEARS. Flicking idiots are too stupid or naive to realize that.

Albert Loeser's picture

I have no dog in this hunt but it seems to me that the principles from both companies outta sit down and figure this out and then all y’all can make beer and money in peace.

DeWayne Jackson's picture

So what if they had to change their name to Sawstone Ale Works or Sawstone Brew House, or whatever? With a 3bbl system all they will be is a community watering hole. Is it that big of a deal???
One thing is for sure, it's hard to respect anyone who uses slander and misinformation.

Marie Onukiavage's picture

DeWayne, right? Kind of like Koch's implication that they are doing something shady with the GoFundMe and merch money.

DeWayne Jackson's picture

I agree. I'm not taking sides with anyone on this issue. I find the whole "theater" rather amusing.

Now go have a beer's picture

Sawstone Ale Works, or abbreviate to SAW.

Bill's picture

Going out to get some arrogant bastard right now!

Tom's picture

I think Greg protest too much.

If Greg cared he would have filed before they completely branded.

He also would know that KY bars are closed and the only way to do business is online.

He would also know a bad lawyer is still $300 or more an hour.

He would also know that a company the size of sawstone would go under on a simple rebrand.

If he cared he would have heard of sawstone before his company sent a letter. I mean it was only 20 companies they sent letters to

I am just saying I used to drink stone I probably won't anymore

Tom

Andrew's picture

They can have their name and make and sell beer they just can't get the Nationwide patent, right? This seems silly.

Serendipity's picture

I grew up with 2 of the owners of Sawstone, they are incredibly respectable, honest, and hard working men. I have seen that they have tried on multiple occasions (by multiple, I mean every single comment I’ve read from them, and from one of their wives, who is also part owner in the business) to ask others to not harass or basically bully those who are affiliated with Stone Brewing. It’s the fans and supporters of Sawstone Brewing who have taken it upon themselves to act as they have been. The posts I’ve read, the comments I’ve seen, it’s downright shameful and embarrassing to me at times, as a Morehead native. I do support Sawstone, I buy their beer, I go into their business and I really like the owners as people. I just don’t believe how some of their other supporters have been acting is appropriate, right, or even moral. And I know the owners haven’t been too happy with some of the things people have done or how they’ve been acting toward people on the ‘other team’. I would love to see this resolved, and for Sawstone Brewing to be able to keep their name, because when they chose that particular name, it had everything to do with our Eastern Kentucky heritage, absolutely nothing to do with Stone Brewing. But, I also know that it does indeed look closely related to Stone Brewing. Maybe a happy agreement can be met, maybe not. I would just like to see everyone, first and foremost, on ALL sides of this, stop with the hate. We have too much going on already, with our country that’s basically falling apart, and too much going on in the world, to have so much animosity and disrespect for other human beings. Supporters on both sides of this coin need to stop being bullies. Because that’s exactly what too many of them have been. Nothing more than childish schoolyard bullies. It’s heartbreaking. ✌️

danielle.hayman's picture

Thank you @serendipity for sharing such a thoughtful and productive comment. You summed it up perfectly - this situation is heartbreaking and ugly and painful on both sides. I do not speak officially for Stone - I speak as a proud member of Team Stone who has been greatly saddedned by all this hate speech.  I understand people are angry and need to express themselves, but want to remind everyone we're all real people - daughters, sons, mothers, fathers, wives, husbands - who are also trying to cope with the current times.

Chris's picture

How would people react if someone started a whiskey distillery in Chico and called it Cal Knob Creek Distillery? I don't think those three letters would stop Beam Suntory from defending the Knob Creek trademark.

I understand it may seem unfair that someone has trademarked a seemingly ubiquitous object like stone but remember sky is trademarked as well and is viciously defended.

On a final note it's NEVER appropriate to threat death and violence against people on the internet. I hope everyone that witnesses this behavior admoninshes it and reports it to the proper authorities.

Justin's picture

This story was picked up by a very popular Kentucky blog / radio show / pod cast. No one organized a smear campaign. The fans of the Kentucky site are siding with the underdog and taking it too far. No reason for the good people at Sawstone brewery should be retaliated against for their actions.

Bryce's picture

I remember when Oscars Mexican food in San Marcos had a trademark dispute with Oscars greek food in Encinitas back in the early 2000s...I enjoyed both their food, but it was obvious why one restaurant would feel that there was a chance of confusion. Surprised people see this as legal bullying...it seems like the obvious thing to do in business to me.

Christina Marrick's picture

To Stone Brewing and their badass crew- Keep your heads held high, this will pass, and you will continue to be leaders in the best industry around. I think I’ll go find myself a Tangerine Express. Cheers from Colorado.

Thor Emblem's picture

Greg is the epitome of class. I am so proud to be a Stone Brewing fan since the Mata Way days. Cheers and I hope this is all over soon. In the interim, I think I'll crack a Fear Movie Lions and ponder the greatness of Stone Brewing.

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