(KHOU)- The beaver is smiling, but his lawyer is fighting.
Buc-ee's, the wildly popular chain of giant gas stations and oversized convenience stores sprouting up alongside Texas highways, is in federal court defending its buck-toothed beaver trademark.
The retail chain based in Lake Jackson is suing a small store called B & B Grocein Uvalde County for advertising itself with a cartoon critter it calls the Frio Beaver.
Both of the characters sport smiles consisting of two very large teeth. The Frio Beaver logo, like the Buc-ee's beaver, is surrounded by a bright yellow circle outlined in black, a point noted in the trademark infringement suit.
Both of the beavers look happy, but the logos also differ in a number of ways. The Buc-ee's beaver logo shows only a head shot profile; the Frio Beaver is standing, wearing sunglasses and carrying an inner-tube.
"That's a nice, little, happy chipper beaver," said Mark Hicks, a Buc-ee's customer comparing the two logos. "And that's a river rat looking beaver."
Other customers checking out the cartoon characters disagreed.
"Yeah, look at the teeth," said Amy Burris, a customer at the Buc-ee's store in Texas City. "I mean, it's a beaver. You can't take a beaver and put it on something else for a logo like that."
Maybe you can, maybe you can't. Gerald Treece, the dean of the South Texas College of Law, said he believes Buc-ee's doesn't have much of case but that doesn't really 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 points out the Buc-ee's beaver also resembles other buck-toothed cartoon animals 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.
An attorney for Buc-ee's said the company hopes to resolve the dispute without a trial. B&B Grocery, the Frio Beaver people, didn't return calls for comment.