Taco Bell Scores in Suit

Taco Bell Corp. scored a victory in a Michigan federal court when a judge dismissed a lawsuit from a small design shop that claimed the Irvine-based chain’s popular Chihuahua advertising campaign borrowed heavily from their ideas.

U.S. District Judge Gordon J. Quist last week threw out the case filed by Thomas Rinks and Joseph Shields, who run Wrench Inc. in Michigan. The men claimed the Chihuahua commercials were derived from one that they had created.

Taco Bell and its advertising agency, TBWA/Chiat/Day, have maintained that there was no misappropriation of ideas. Taco Bell has acknowledged that its executives talked to Rinks about a possible licensing deal, but said the Chihuahua with a taste for Mexican-style fast food was developed solely by TBWA/Chiat/Day.

The judge found that the concept of the Chihuahua the Michigan firm presented to Taco Bell was not novel or original, and also ruled that the lawsuit could not be filed as a breach of contract lawsuit because it falls under copyright law, according to Valerie Simmons, one of the attorneys representing Wrench LLC. She plans to appeal.