Taco Bell Fights To Make the Term ‘Taco Tuesday’ Free for All To Use
Did you know that the origins of “Taco Tuesday” allegedly come from a small chain of Mexican restaurants called Taco John’s?
Apparently, a 1989 trademark by the small chain made it illegal for Taco Bell to use the phrase in any of their marketing or menu items. Taco Bell, however, has had enough with the “Taco Tuesday” supremacy. The fast-food chain has filed a petition to cancel Taco John’s trademark once and for all.
Trademark attorney Taylor Tieman spoke to mitú to help us understand what this means for both companies — and everyone else who celebrates Taco Tuesday.
Taco John’s trademarked “Taco Tuesday” in 1989
The story goes something like this: a small chain of Mexican restaurants based in Cheyenne, Wyoming launched a promotion in the 1980s called “Taco Twosday” to advertise a two-for-one deal that would give customers two tacos on Tuesday for just 99 cents.
Then, a franchise in Minnesota named David Olsen coined the term to bring in customers on a notoriously slow day for the chain. However, the Taco John’s corporate office liked the term so much they trademarked “Taco Tuesday” in 1989.
Since then, Taco John’s monopoly over the phrase has applied to every fast-food chain, restaurant, food truck, and t-shirt that tried to use the phrase. Additionally, the Wyoming-based chain has a habit of sending cease-and-desist letters to any person or entity who dares to use the common phrase.
According to a report from Vice, Taco John’s handles hundreds of cease-and-desist letters. This includes everything from rival restaurants to people hashtagging the phrase online. Now, Taco Bell is trying to put an end to the madness.
“If Taco John’s can no longer send cease-and-desist letters to businesses that unlawfully use the term ‘Taco Tuesday,'” Tieman said. “It would have a significant impact on the company’s ability to protect its trademark rights and seek damages for doing so.”
Although Taco John’s did register the trademark, Tieman added, “We all know how popular it has become outside of that specific business.”
Taco Bell files a petition to free “Taco Tuesday” once and for all
Taco Bell is now launching an entire campaign to garner support for the liberation of the famous phrase. The chain petitioned to cancel the Taco John’s trademark, giving any business the right to use the phrase.
The company filed two separate petitions targeting both businesses: Taco John’s in 49 states and Gregory’s Restaurant and Bar in New Jersey.
However, Taco Bell isn’t going after the term because they want to trademark it. In fact, if the petition goes through successfully, Taco Bell intends to keep the phrase free for anyone to use.
In their filing against Gregory’s, the company writes, “Taco Bell believes ‘Taco Tuesday’ is critical to everyone’s Tuesday. To deprive anyone of saying ‘Taco Tuesday’ — be it Taco Bell or anyone who provides tacos to the world — is like depriving the world of sunshine itself.”
Continuing, Taco Bell half-jokingly writes, “‘Taco Tuesday’ is a common phrase. Nobody should have exclusive rights in a common phrase. Can you imagine if we weren’t allowed to say ‘what’s up’ or ‘brunch’? Chaos.”
Taco John’s CEO Jim Creel responded
Taco John’s might lose its biggest claim to fame. However, CEO Jim Creel doesn’t seem too worried, according to a statement.
“I’d like to thank our worthy competitors at Taco Bell for reminding everyone that Taco Tuesday is best celebrated at Taco John’s,” he wrote to NBC News. “It’s OK. It’s kind of nice that they’ve noticed.”
However, Tieman says this change could threaten Taco John.
“If other businesses are allowed to use the term ‘Taco Tuesday’ without fear of legal repercussions, it would dilute the value of Taco John’s trademark and make it more difficult for the company to distinguish itself from its competitors,” she said.
Currently, Taco John’s has just over a month to respond to Taco Bell’s filing. But if they don’t, they risk losing the trademark. However, the filing specifies that the case may span as long as two years if they cannot reach a decision.
There is actually a legal precedent for these kinds of cases
Taco John’s isn’t the first business to have their trademarks threatened. In fact, multiple brand names are no longer protected under trademark law because they’ve become so common. Tieman explained, “When a trademark becomes too generic, this is actually called genericide.”
If a business or product falls victim to genericide, that means they run the risk of losing the name that made them notable in the first place. “You would think you would want your trademark to become as popular as possible…but there is danger in that,” Tieman said.
The attorney cites a number of products that originated as brand names before losing the trademark that made them successful. Some of them include aspirin, cellophane, escalator and many more.
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