Taco Bell seeks to liberate ‘Taco Tuesday,’ a phrase trademarked by rivals

    • Taco Bell is launching a “liberation effort” around Taco Tuesday, a phrase that is currently trademarked by rivals, according to a news release
    • The Yum Brands chain has filed legal petitions with the Trial and Appeal Board of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) to cancel federal trademark registrations around Taco Tuesday. Taco John’s, a competitor, trademarked the popular phrase in 1989 and currently owns the registration in 49 states, while a small business called Gregory’s owns it in New Jersey.  
    • Taco Bell said it is not seeking damages, but instead common sense usage for the term. To raise awareness, the brand is inviting consumers to sign a Freeing Taco Tuesday petition and participate in a Reddit Ask Me Anything discussion on May 22.

    Taco Bell is positioning its bid to remove federal trademark registrations over Taco Tuesday as a democratic one. The company gave assurances that it is not trying to take over the trademark for itself, but rather free up restaurants and vendors to use the phrase without fear of cease and desist letters or potential legal action. In its petition to the USPTO, the Yum Brands marketer said that such constraints violate the American ideal of the pursuit of happiness. 

    Looking beyond the lofty language, Taco Bell’s argument leans on the idea that Taco Tuesday is a commonly used phrase that no one entity should own, comparable to something like “brunch” or “what’s up.” Many people might not actually know Taco Tuesday is a trademarked term to begin with. Taco Bell is hoping to get consumers involved through its online petition while hosting a Q&A on Reddit and promoting the campaign through its social channels, which have millions of followers. Only five people had signed the petition at the time of this story’s publication. 

    The history of who owns Taco Tuesday is fairly rich and contentious, as recounted by the patent and trademark attorneys Smith & Hopen. Gregory’s Restaurant & Bar in New Jersey initially secured a federal trademark registration over it in the early 1980s. However, the company whiffed its renewal deadline near the close of the decade, with Taco John’s moving in quickly to nab the rights in 1989. Today, Gregory’s only owns the trademark in New Jersey, while Taco John’s covers the other 49 states. Still, Taco Bell is pushing to remove all federally registered trademarks related to the phrase. 

    “Taco Tuesday is a common (generic) term and should not be owned by any one person or company, large or small,” Taco Bell states on a website page explaining its campaign. 

    Cheyenne, Wyoming-based Taco John’s has not been shy about enforcing its trademark in the past. A 2017 article in Vice details a number of cases where local establishments tried to start Taco Tuesday promotions before hearing from the brand’s lawyers.

    Taco Bell’s strategy could generate some positive publicity and, if successful, will allow the company to use Taco Tuesday in its marketing further down the road. Other recent ploys from Taco Bell include a campaign with comedian Pete Davidson that reimagines the “Saturday Night Live” alum as a buttoned-up morning show host named Peter. The creative promotes a limited-time California Breakfast Crunchwrap, part of Taco Bell’s pivot to focus on a more toned-down breakfast menu. 


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