Recently, students in Associate Professor Tim McFarlin’s Intellectual Property Law class engaged in a virtual discussion with lawyer, entrepreneur and brewer Stuart Keating of Earthbound Beer, a St. Louis-based microbrewery. Keating and Earthbound made headlines in 2019 for a social media-savvy response to a letter from the French brewery Meteor which requested that Earthbound cease using the name "Meteor IPA" for one of its beers. The French brewer claimed Earthbound was violating trademark law by using Meteor in a way likely to confuse consumers.
Keating responded to the French brewer with a mix of trademark knowledge and tongue-in-cheek self-deprecation, such as: “No consumer is going to mistake a 16oz aluminum can of American craft beer (which features text entirely in English) for a glass bottle of French international lager...(which features text entirely in French)” and “nobody’s gonna see one of our ads and say ‘wow! That must be a huge French brewing conglomerate! They should probably fire their advertising team!’”
McFarlin’s class read and discussed the letter and response, as well as the French brewer’s trademark registration documents, before speaking with Keating. “It’s vital for students to see how the routine of sending ‘nasty’ letters in legal practice is changing in the age of social media, where businesses large and small risk bad press for coming off as a bully when their letters get posted for the world to see, but where businesses and lawyers can also market themselves with an artfully crafted, humor-infused letter or response,” said McFarlin. “It goes to a larger point, too: people can be tough without sounding robotic or unpleasant.”
Keating also spoke more generally about how his law degree has helped him and his team build Earthbound Beer. “Being able to think like a lawyer, being able to analyze complex information, being able to look at a stressful situation objectively, those are all very valuable skills,” Keating told students.
“Talking with Stuart was a great opportunity on multiple levels,” said McFarlin. “It was fun to see the sense of humor and legal knowledge from his letter come to life in real-time in our class.”