Appellate panel rules in fake denture case

Friday, May 23, 2003

CHICAGO -- Both Billy-Bob and Bubba have repulsive false teeth, but it took the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to determine that Billy Bob's are the real deal when it comes to disgusting dentures.

The appellate panel on Wednesday reversed a southern Illinois federal judge's decision to overturn a copyright infringement award to novelty teeth maker Billy-Bob Teeth Inc. of Hardin.

And in writing for the panel, Judge Terrence Evans cited no less a dentally challenged authority than movie spy Austin Powers.

"When International Man of Mystery Austin Powers gazes at the comely British agent Kensington and purrs 'groovy, baby,' or 'oh behave!' he always smiles, exposing a set of teeth the best orthodontist in the world could not improve," Evans wrote.

It wasn't simply a clever remark. Billy-Bob Teeth Inc. has a licensing agreement with New Line Cinema, producer of the Austin Powers movies.

Billy-Bob's attorneys said the company was selling $5 million a year in novelty teeth and argued that the Bubba line, produced by a company called Novelty Inc. of Indianapolis, was biting into profits with too similar a trade name.

The creator of the Billy-Bob teeth, Jonah White, 32, said last year he was almost fooled when he spotted a set of the Bubba teeth in a service station window for sale.

"At first I thought it was my teeth and the sunlight had just faded the packaging," White said.

But on closer inspection, he saw the teeth had been made by Novelty and given a name eerily similar to his own copyrighted, gap-toothed product.

Last June, a federal jury in East St. Louis awarded White more than $142,000. But Judge David R. Herndon later overturned the award, ruling that Billy-Bob had not filled out its paperwork properly to make the copyright infringement claim stick.

Evans and the two other judges on the panel reinstated the jury award, ruling that Billy-Bob's lax paperwork should not count against it.

At least 12 companies produce similar fake rotten teeth.

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