Declaring a mission to liberate “Taco Tuesday” for all, Taco Bell is asking US regulators to force Wyoming-based Taco John to relinquish its long-standing claim to the trademark.
Many businesses and others refer to “Taco Tuesday” so that Taco John’s can have exclusive rights to the phrase, Taco Bell announced in a US Patent and Trademark Office filing that was, of course, dated Tuesday.
This is the latest development in the long-standing “Taco Tuesday” beef that even includes NBA star LeBron James who made an unsuccessful attempt to claim the trademark in 2019.
“Taco Bell believes that ‘Taco Tuesday’ is critical to everyone’s Tuesday. To deny anyone from saying ‘Taco Tuesday’ – be it Taco Bell or anyone who gives tacos to the world – is like denying the world in the sunshine itself,” the Taco Bell filing reads.
A key question is whether “Taco Tuesdays” over the years has fallen into “genericide,” said New York trademark law attorney Emily Poler. That’s the term when a word or phrase is so widely used for similar products — or in this case, marketing promotions — that they’re no longer associated with the trademark holder. .
Well-known examples of genericide victims include “cellophane,” “escalator” and “trampoline.”
“Basically what it comes down to is you can’t label something ‘generic,'” Poler said. “That means it doesn’t have any association with that source or product.”
James — a well-known taco lover — ran into this problem when he tried to trademark “Taco Tuesday” in 2019. a “common term” to qualify as a trademark.
With more than 7,200 locations in the US and internationally, Taco Bell — a Yum! Brands chain with Pizza Hut, KFC and The Habit Burger Grill — bigger than Cheyenne-based Taco John’s. Started as a food truck more than 50 years ago, Taco John’s now has about 370 locations in 23 primarily Midwestern and Western states.
The relatively small size of the chain did not discourage the big-time implementation of “Taco Tuesdays” as a trademark, which began in the 1980s. In 2019, the company sent a letter to a brewery just five blocks from its corporate headquarters, warn it to stop using “Taco Tuesday” to promote the taco truck parked outside on Tuesdays.
Active defense of a trademark is necessary to maintain its claim, and the letter is just one example of Taco John’s telling restaurants far and wide to stop “Taco Tuesdays.”
Taco John’s responded to Taco Bell’s filing by announcing a new two-week Taco Tuesday promotion, with plenty of riposte.
“I want to thank our worthy competitors Taco Bell for reminding everyone that Taco Tuesday is best celebrated at Taco John’s,” CEO Jim Creel said in an emailed statement. “We want to celebrate Taco Tuesday with taco lovers everywhere, and we want to offer a special invitation to Taco Bell fans to free themselves by coming to see how delicious and bold tacos will be available at Taco John’s all month long.”
The filing is one of two from Taco Bell involving “Taco Tuesday.” One challenged Taco John’s claim to “Taco Tuesday” in 49 states, while a similar filing contested a New Jersey restaurant and bar’s claim to “Taco Tuesday” in that state. Taco John’s and Gregory’s Restaurant and Bar in Somers Point, New Jersey, have been using “Taco Tuesday” for over 40 years.
A Taco John’s franchisee in Minnesota created “Taco Twosday” to promote two tacos for 99 cents on a slow weekday, Creel told The Associated Press in an interview Tuesday.
The Patent and Trademark Office approved Taco John’s “Taco Tuesday” trademark in 1989. Despite its many letters, Creel said, the company never had to go to court over the phrase.
He didn’t feel singled out, either, at the larger Taco Bell.
“It’s okay. It’s nice that they watched,” said Creel.