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Taco Bell Ordered to Pay Chihuahua Creators

Aired June 5, 2003 - 19:53   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Martha Stewart isn't the only corporate figurehead in the headlines these days. A jury has handed down a $30 million settlement regarding the icon of corporate America. That's right. A Grand Rapids jury said that Taco Bell has to pay the true creators of the fast food chain's popular Chihuahua mascot.
The $30 million settlement vindicated two men's claim that the mascot originated with their "Psycho Chihuahua" character, and proves without a shadow of a doubt that I am in the wrong business. Taco Bell is appealing, especially with fiesty sauce.

Joining me now is one of the Psycho Chihuahua's proud parents, Tom Rinks along with attorney Doug Dozeman.

Gentlemen, thanks for being with us. Appreciate it.

TOM RINKS, AWARDED $30 MILLION FOR CHIHUAHUA CHARACTER: You're welcome.

COOPER: Tom, you've got to be happy with the settlement. I know they're going to appeal, and we'll talk about that in a moment.

But tell us a little bit how you first came up with the idea of the chihuahua character.

RINKS: Well, it was in 1995 -- Joe and myself -- he's my partner. He's the artists. We were looking to design some licenses to put on some T-shirts, and at the time Big Dogs were big, and all the mean dogs, and No Fear was a big hit, and we thought it was time for a bit of a change for the 18-24 crowd.

So we actually took the opposite of all that, and looked for the smallest, weakest, most timid animal, and tried to make him cool, tried to make him -- tried to make him big.

COOPER: Right.

RINK: And we knew if he gave him some spunk, that every body would root for the underdog.

COOPER: And then --- how -- how did the -- and this has all come out in the court. How did the Taco Bell folks run into you?

RINK: Well, they actually came to us at a licensing show. We had been licensing to a bunch of different manufacturers, and in 1996 we were at a licensing show in New York City where Nickelodeon and Universal Studios were. We were next to them. And Taco Bell, among others, walked up to us at that show and said they were looking for a mascot for their brand and that this would be perfect. And that started a year relationship that we had with them.

COOPER: And then it went on for a year or whatever, and then I guess you thought it didn't pan out, and then all of a sudden you pick up a trade paper -- what? -- and read they're going ahead with the big chihuahua campaign?

RINK: Yes. After we finalized all the commercials, and actually done the campaign for them, they hired a new ad agency, and telephone calls just started staggering off. And then they stopped coming, and then we heard about the ads, and later saw them, and they were exactly what we had presented for over a year.

COOPER: When you first heard that, first read that, first found out was going on, did you just go ballistic? I mean -- how did you -- you're -- I mean, no offense, but, like, you know, it was you and one other guy who created this thing. They're a huge, huge corporation.

RINK: Yes, it was devastating, to say the least. And -- but we really didn't know what to do, because like you say, they're a $4 billion company, and two guys, what are we really going to do? So we didn't know how many options we had, actually.

COOPER: Well, I guess that's when you turn to the guy next to you, Doug Dozeman.

Doug, how a tough a case was this to fight? I know, you know, you're probably going to say you had a lot of evidence and stuff. But again, you know, these are two small guys, giant corporation you're going up against.

DOUG DOZEMAN, ATTORNEY FOR TACO BELL CHIHUAHUA CREATOR: Well, yes, we had a tough battle. We know we were going to have a tough battle, and it was. It took us five-and-a-half years.

But we got enough evidence out of them, and I knew from talking to Tom and Joe that this wasn't just a fly by night thing, this wasn't just a case of two guys claiming that they came up with the idea, with no evidence. We actually had a yearlong relationship here. And the documentation was just voluminous, and we were able to get that and prove the story.

COOPER: Where does it go from here? I mean, they've said they're going to appeal. That -- what? Can that take years?

DOZEMAN: Well, it can't take forever. They can appeal if they want to appeal. They get one appeal as of right. Frankly, we don't think they don't have grounds for an appeal. But if they do, we'll take it up and we are confident we'll prevail.

COOPER: Gentlemen, appreciate you joining us. Doug Dozeman, Tom Rinks. Thanks very much. Good story.

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