Keurig Co-Founder Talks about Intellectual Property and Entrepreneurship

Author: Kevin Allen

Chris Stevens, B.A. ’74, was part of a coffee revolution as one of the original four team members who launched Keurig in 1998. The company, which Green Mountain Coffee Roasters fully acquired in 2006, changed the way people brew and enjoy a cup of joe.

Stevens described the vision and determination involved in Keurig’s success while speaking to students Wednesday at Notre Dame Law School. He also talked about the vital role that intellectual property played in Keurig’s survival and growth.

“There had been no innovation in the coffee industry for a long time. We thought if we can make coffee a cup at a time – with variety, freshness, convenience, no waste, no cleanup, no hassle – maybe we have something,” Stevens said.

“Lawyers were pretty important to us,” he said. “For Keurig, a lot of it was about intellectual property – having the patents, having the trademarks.”

The Keurig single-serve brewing system and K-Cup pods were designed to protect the company from imitators and competitors.

That foresight has paid off throughout Keurig’s history, he said.

One big example came in 2008, when Green Mountain Coffee Roasters received a large settlement from a major consumer products company that it had sued for patent infringement.

“We had to have really good counsel,” Stevens said.

Stevens retired from the coffee business in 2013.

He returned to the University of Notre Dame to teach as an adjunct faculty member in the Mendoza College of Business.

Stevens is also the founder and CEO of CS 74 Ventures, a holding company with investments in more than 20 initiatives and a mission to give at least half of its profits to charitable or social causes.

On Wednesday, he encouraged students to dream, to think about what they want for their families and themselves, and to learn how to market themselves in a way that sets them apart from the crowd.

“Work on developing that special skill that you have,” he said. “Remember, you’re a brand.”

The Intellectual Property Law Society and Business Law Forum sponsored the event.