Buc-ee's - Trademark Defender

By: Jim Dossey, MS, MBA, JD, Patent Attorney

In Texas, Buc-ee's is well-known for its giant gas stations and oversized convenience stores. Awarded in 2012 for having the "cleanest restrooms in America", the first Buc-ee's store was opened in Lake Jackson, Texas in 1982. The famous Buc-ee's logo can now be seen in 29 locations throughout Texas.

Buc-ees is also famous for something else… defending its trademark against possible infringers. In a lawsuit filed on July 3, 2014 in the Houston Division of the Southern District of Texas, Buc-ee's claimed that a small store named B & B Grocein Uvalde County infringed its trademark by using a similar cartoon character named "Frio Beaver." The Buc-ee's logo, trademarked in 2007, shows a beaver with a red hat surrounded by a bright yellow circle. The Frio Beaver logo shows a beaver with sunglasses holding an inner tube and a drink in front of a bright yellow circle.

In order to prove that the Frio Beaver logo infringed the Buc-ee's trademark, Buc-ee's must show that the Frio Beaver logo is likely to confuse consumers. Courts weigh various factors in determining the likelihood of confusion, including the degree of similarity between the logos, the similarity between the products or services, evidence of actual confusion, quality of the defendant's product or service, and the sophistication of the buyers.

Despite the questionable merits of this case, Buc-ee's has valid reasons for defending its trademarks. Like many businesses, Buc-ee's has spent a lot of time and effort developing its brand. If it does not defend its trademark, it faces the risk of brand tarnishment or dilution. Brand dilution occurs when a defendant's use of the mark (or similar mark) dilutes the strong association consumers have with a company's trademark. Tarnishment occurs when another's use of the trademark (or similar mark) places the company's trademark in a bad light. Buc-ee's must vigorously defend its trademark to avoid losing its investment in its brand.

Although there are similarities between the logos, the clear differences between the Buc-ee's and Frio Beaver logos would likely result in little consumer confusion. Gerald Treece, dean of the South Texas College of Law, told KHOU 11 News that unfortunately the merits of the case probably don't matter, saying the "big guys always beat the little guys' when it comes to trademarks and copyrights."

Evidently, B &B is not the first convenience store owner to feel the wrath of Buc-ee's infringement suits. In March 2013, Buc-ee's sued the Bryan, Texas-based convenience store called Chicks for trademark infringement. The companies eventually settled out of court.

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