A federal court judge in Atlanta is scheduled today to consider halting production of some controversial bubble-gum trading cards in the case of the Cabbage Patch Kids creator v. the Garbage Pail Kids makers.
Xavier Roberts, the man whose homely but huggable handmade dolls became a national sensation in 1983, says that Topps Chewing Gum's grotesque and bad-mannered Garbage Pail characters, a hit with kids since last fall, are ruining his dolls' "wholesome image."
He filed suit in March, alleging that the cards constitute unfair competition and copyright infringement. The suit argues that the Garbage Pail characters, which resemble the Cabbage Patch dolls, can't be produced without licensing from Roberts' Original Appalachian Artworks Inc.
"We're asking that all profits Topps has made from the Garbage Pail Kids be awarded the plaintiffs," said William H. Needle, Roberts' lawyer.
The Garbage Pail characters -- which have names like "Messy Tessie" and "Peepin' Tom" and which poke fun at such things as braces and fat kids -- have "a negative impact on the goodwill and high esteem associated with the Cabbage Patch Kids," Needle said, adding that the names of the two products are "confusingly similar."
Norman Liss, a Topps spokesman, said Topps believes that there is "no legal basis for a complaint," and added that "a fourth series of Garbage Pail Kids cards is now in the planning stages."
Although Liss would not comment further on the suit, an answer filed in the case by Topps' lawyers says the Garbage Pail Kids products "are in the nature of satire or parody." It argues that "any similarity between the Garbage Pail Kids and any other article in which the Roberts corporation might have a property right" constitutes "fair use" of the Cabbage Patch Kids trademark.
U.S. District Court Judge Ernest G. Tidwell is expected to decide today on a request in the case for a preliminary injunction to halt production of the cards.
Meanwhile, the third series of Garbage Pail Kids continues to sell like, well, bubble gum.
The first and second series of the trading cards already are collectors' items. One pack of cards from the first series, for example, sells for $2 at the House of Cards in Silver Spring. A pack from the second series sells for $1 at the same store. The five-card packages, which include one piece of bubble gum, were intended to sell for a quarter.
Topps, Liss said, "has found it impossible to keep up with the demand" since national distribution of the Garbage Pail Kids began last fall. Citing the pressures of competition, he refused to divulge how many packages of the cards have been produced or sold but did say that the plant in Brooklyn has been working three shifts a day.
Another hot-selling item, licensed by Topps, is a T-shirt emblazoned with one of several characters. And there are more Garbage Pail products in the works: Topps has signed a licensing agreement with Bright Ideas Inc., a Coatesville, Pa., company, for the production of folders featuring characters from the Garbage Pail Kids cards.
Each Garbage Pail Kids character has a twin, so collectors trade to get pairs of cards.
For example, in the second series, George Washington appears as "Gorgeous George" and "Dollar Bill." President Ronald Reagan is portrayed as "Ray Gun" and "Rappin' Ron." Such satirizing has caused consternation among some parents and educators.
"Basically, I thought the cards were disgusting," said Martha Thomas, director of the Colesville Montessori School in Silver Spring. "Most of the characters are reprehensible."
Thomas, like some other educators around the country, banned the cards from her school after some of the preschoolers brought them to school for show-and-tell.