Academic journal article Southern Law Journal

Starbucks, Trademark Law and the Exit 6 Incident

Academic journal article Southern Law Journal

Starbucks, Trademark Law and the Exit 6 Incident

Article excerpt

According to the results of a study conducted by the Pew Research Center, lawyers contribute little to society.1 Collective attitudes towards attorneys are often encapsulated in popular clichés, such as "What do you call 10,000 lawyers at the bottom of the ocean?" "How can you tell when a lawyer is lying?" and "Why won't sharks attack lawyers?" Stereotypes, such as "ambulance chaser," "pit bull," "TV lawyer," and "old boys club" reinforce the negative connotations associated with the legal profession.2 Remarkably, perspectives that disregard contributions of the legal profession are routinely shared by managers and executives in the corporate setting.3 For instance, in a survey by the National Science Foundation (NSF), over 87% of surveyed businesses reported that intellectual property (IP) law protections were "not important" to their organizations.4 Such results are particularly discouraging in light of the growing evidence and scholarship highlighting the importance of legal strategy to business success.5

To better educate the next generation of business professionals who will regularly engage in decision-making that requires an understanding and an appreciation for the role of law in the corporate setting, there is a growing need for innovative assignments that challenge students' preconceived notions and perspectives of the law.6 In response to this need, the author of this pedagogical note developed a critical reflection assignment from a reallife trademark dispute between Starbucks Coffee Company ("Starbucks") and the Exit 6 Pub and Brewery (Exit 6) in Cottleville, MO. In brief, Britton received a notice requesting Exit 6 to immediately cease and desist use of the term "Frappicino" in connection with the sale of a beer crafted by the brewery. As discussed more fully below, Britton's colorful response led to a wide range of amusement on the internet.7

The goal of the Starbucks - Exit 6 Assignment is to emphasize important concepts of trademark dilution law to undergraduate business law students. Students not only gain valuable insight into essential trademark principles of intellectual property law, but also learn how to apply a critical eye to legal events reflected in the media. Above all, students begin to understand how biases, mistaken beliefs about the law, and the absence of comprehensive information may dramatically hinder their capacities to critically evaluate legal disputes.

The discussion in this paper proceeds in three parts. Part I includes an overview of the incident that inspired the Starbucks Exit 6 assignment as well as a brief description of the assignment guidelines. Part II provides context for the assignment, followed by a brief primer on trademark law and a discussion of the pedagogical attributes of the assignment along two dimensions: (a) critical examination of trademark dilution principles in a real-world context; and (b) identification of the impact of biases and misperceptions on decision-making. Part III contains summaries of students' views on the Starbucks Exit 6 incident at each stage of the assignment as well as student evaluations of the assignment's impact as a teaching tool. Finally, Part IV closes with concluding remarks.

I. The Starbucks - Exit 6 Assignment

A.Background on the Starbucks Exit 6 Incident

The Starbucks brand has come a long way since it opened its first store in Seattle's historic Pike Place Market in 1971. Today, the company's products are sold in more than 22,000 retail stores in sixty-seven countries.8 The Starbucks mission, "To inspire and nurture the human spirit - one person, one cup and one neighborhood at a time," provides a platform for the company's desire to strike a balance between profitability and a social conscience through ethical sourcing, environmental stewardship, and community involvement."9 The range of products offered by Starbucks includes more than thirty blends and single-origin premium coffees, smoothies, teas, merchandise, fresh food, and ready-to-drink (RTD) beverages. …

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