By: Paige Mankin
Buc-ee’s v. Choke Canyon BBQ Trademark Dispute
In late May, a federal jury determined in a trademark infringement challenge that the image below (left) was too similar to the image below (right).
Buc-ee’s Ltd. (Buc-ee’s) is a company that operates a chain of 33 gas stations and convenience stores throughout Texas, Alabama, and Florida.1. Choke Canyon BBQ (Choke Canyon) is a San Antonio-based rest-stop chain that is also a barbeque restaurant. 2. Buc-ee’s filed suit against Choke Canyon, claiming that the latter’s alligator logo is too similar to their own beaver mascot (see illustrations below). The issue in this case was whether these two logos would result in confusion to the consumer, especially considering that Buc-ee’s and Choke Canyon deal with the same channels of trade. Jurors were asked to determine whether the Choke Canyon mascot (left) infringed upon Buc-ee’s already established trademark, a buck-toothed beaver (right). In late May, a Houston jury found in Buc-ee’s favor, agreeing that the alligator logo violated trademark law. 3.
As you can see, The most overt characteristics between the two logos are: 1) the inclusion of a cartoon animal with a human hat; 2) the right-facing stances of the animals; and 3) the yellow, circular backdrop. There are also differing aspects of the images. Choke Canyon’s mascot, a goofy-looking alligator, is licking his lips while wearing a beige cowboy hat. On the other hand, Buc-ee’s mascot, a beaver, is sporting a red baseball cap while showcasing his buck teeth. The two animals also appear to be looking in different directions, and the circles appear to be different shades of yellow. Considering these apparent distinctions, how did Buc-ee’s prevail in court?
Buc-ee’s counsel told the jury that Choke Canyon intentionally used a cartoon animal to confuse drivers and lure them into exiting the highway and entering their stores, wherein they provide similar items to Buc-ee’s. While at first glance the images may look distinct, Buc-ee’s counsel explained that, “they put a human hat on the alligator, they opened his mouth. Then they made him stand, which I’ve never seen an alligator stand . . . Then they added a yellow background . . . They’re both cartoon characters. They’re both aquatic, they have human characteristics, they’re both standing, they’re both in round circles, they have big round eyes facing the same direction and they have teeth showing and a red tongue.” 5.
However, Choke Canyon’s counsel contended that even children know the difference between a beaver and an alligator, also noting that the company’s use of an alligator was purposeful: to match the local attraction, the alligators at Choke Canyon. 4. Counsel further argued that Choke Canyon has a sit-down restaurant area, which is nothing like what what Buc-ee’s offers. Counsel explained that any overlap in products between the two companies is attributable to the fact that all convenience stores choose among popular goods from the same suppliers. 6. Choke Canyon lawyers also articulated that the designer responsible for creating the alligator logo is from New Zealand, and had never heard of or seen Buc-ee’s before. 7.
On the other hand, Buc-ee’s counsel argued that Choke Canyon intentionally packaged and promoted t-shirts and products in a manner that results in confusion to the consumer and further infringes upon their marks (see images below).
Ultimately, after six hours of deliberation, the jury found that the alligator logo violated state and federal trademark law, resulting in a victory for Buc-ee’s. 8. Choke Canyon counsel noted that convincing the jury was especially difficult because, “everybody in the jury panel knew about Buc-ee’s, loved Buc-ee’s and were fans of Buc-ee’s.” 9. The owner of Choke Canyon plans to appeal the case. 10.
What are the implications of this holding for future trademark disputes? Does Buc-ee’s have the sole monopoly on smiling, right-facing cartoons? Perhaps, consumer confusion has a wider latitude than originally contemplated.
- https://www.bizjournals.com/houston/news/2018/05/22/buc-ee-s-wins-trademark-dispute-against-san.html ; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buc-ee’s