Any Texan who's ever taken a cross-state road trip can probably identify the smiling buck-toothed beaver in the red baseball cap as the trademark for Buc-ee's, the omnipresent gas station and convenience store chain that peppers the state's rural highways.
The Lake Jackson-based chain is currently engaged in a legal battle against Frio Beaver, a pizza place and convenience store located in Concan, a small town along the Frio River on the western edge of the Texas Hill Country. The lawsuit, filed in early June, alleges that Frio Beaver copied Buc-ee's concept and marketing strategy, specifically with a logo featuring a buck-toothed beaver surrounded by a yellow circle against a black background.
"Big guys always beat the little guys when it comes to trademark and copyright," said South Texas College of Law's Gerald Treece.
Although the logos have similarities, there are also many differences. Buc-ee's logo features only a beaver's head, while the beaver on the Frio's version is standing, wearing sunglasses and holding an inner-tube. In spite of these rather obvious differences, Gerald Treece, the dean of the South Texas College of Law, tells KHOU 11 News that it may not matter.
"It's a terrible example, again, of 'what the law is doesn't matter,'" Treece said. "It's 'big guys always beat the little guys' when it comes to trademark and copyright."
Treece also noted how much the Buc-ee's beaver looks like other cartoon beavers that came before it.
"I could be arguing that this Buc-ee's may have trouble with Alvin and the Chipmunks and the other cartoon characters that so closely resemble this," he said. "But I guess I'm wrong, because they've got a registered trademark."
The lawsuit also names the Austin-based company that designed the Frio Beaver for parent company B&B Grocery Inc. An attorney for Buc-ee’s told KHOU that he hopes to resolve the dispute without a trial.
According to the Houston Business Journal, Buc-ee's brought a similar lawsuit against the owners of Bryan-based Chicks in 2013. The location was the first for Chicks, and its logo featured the images of two chickens.
The Buc-ee's lawsuit alleged that the concepts, including site and store design, product mix, construction, and logo, were too similar. An out-of-court settlement was reached.