'Taco Tuesday' has become synonymous with American food culture in recent years, as many restaurants offer discounts and promotions in honor of the alliterative day.
But Taco Tuesday has long been trademarked byTaco John’s, a chain of fast food restaurants mostly located in the Midwest and Rocky Mountains. The restaurant chain has held the trademark on the name since 1989.
But the much larger brand Taco Bell wants to “liberate” the trademark so it and other restaurants can freely promote the day without infringing on the trademark. Earlier this week, Taco Bell filed a petition with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to end Taco John’s trademark of the day.
“Taco Bell believes 'Taco Tuesday' should belong to all who make, sell, eat and celebrate tacos,” Taco Bell said in a statement. “In fact, the very essence of 'Taco Tuesday' is to celebrate the commonality amongst people of all walks of life who come together every week to celebrate something as simple, yet culturally phenomenal, as the taco. How can anyone Live Más if they’re not allowed to freely say 'Taco Tuesday?' It’s pure chaos.”
Shontavia Johnson, associate vice president for entrepreneurship and innovation at Clemson University, said cases like this are why she became a trademark lawyer.
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“At the heart of this dispute is free speech, First Amendment, the right for companies to use certain words and phrases,” Johnson said. “And while it seems a little silly for entrepreneurs, startups, and even large corporations, this has real implication change in terms of how the brand is valued.”
Johnson said that Taco John’s has done everything correctly by filing a trademark for the day. But some of the times, usage of words or phrases can grow beyond the scope of a trademark.
“If you think about words that we all know, escalator, aspirin, yo-yo, those started out as trademarks too that now are owned by everyone because the companies and those brands got so big that people started using the phrase not in the trademark sense but just to refer to – in the escalator case, moving stairs or, with yo-yos, of little toys that go up and down,” Johnson said.
Johnson said there is one important question that Taco John’s will have to answer in order to hang onto its trademark.
“One of the important questions will be, what has Taco John’s done over the past, you know, nearly 40 years or so to enforce this trademark against others?” she said. “And there are a lot of cases actually where you see Taco John’s sending people cease-and-desist letters.”
In a statement, Taco John’s called Taco Bell a “big, bad bully.”
“When it comes right down to it, we’re lovers, not fighters, at Taco John’s,” said CEO John Creel. “But when a big, bad bully threatens to take away the mark our forefathers originated so many decades ago, well, that just rings hollow to us. If ‘living más’ means filling the pockets of Taco Bell’s army of lawyers, we’re not interested.”
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