Ask Not For Whom the Taco Bell Tolls

By Gordon Hopkins

“Move swift as the Wind and closely-formed as the Wood. Attack like the Fire and be still as the Mountain.” – Sun Tzu, author of “The Art of War”

Well, the first shot has been fired. The Great Taco War has begun in earnest.
Fast food juggernaut Taco Bell has petitioned the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to cancel the federally registered trademark for the phrase “Taco Tuesday.”
Did you know “Taco Tuesday” was copyrighted? I sure didn’t. Neither, I’ll wager, did all those school lunch ladies who’ve been keeping the kids happy with their own versions of Taco Tuesdays and only now realize they could be issued a Cease and Desist letter from an attorney’s office.
So who actually owns Taco Tuesday? None other than Taco John’s, the Cogswell Cogs to Taco Bell’s Spacely Sprockets. (How many people reading this even get that reference?)
Actually, to be completely accurate, the phrase is owned by two entities. One is Spicy Seasonings LLC, the precursor to Taco John’s Seasonings.
Oh, and the other holder of the trademark? Gregory Hotel Inc. of Brooklyn, New York. I’m not a copyright attorney, so I have no idea how two different entities can hold the copyright on the same phrase. I certainly don’t get how or why a hotel in Brooklyn would acquire a copyright on Taco Tuesday and wasn’t interested enough to find out.
Let’s face it, we really only care about Taco John’s versus Taco Bell. That has the makings of a great dramatic series streaming on Netflix.
The basis for Taco Bell’s petition is pretty simple and one most people would expect. The Bell’s assertion is that Taco Tuesday is a commonplace phrase and as such, should not be copyrightable (Is that word? Autocorrect says no). After all, you couldn’t copyright common phrases, like “What’s for dinner?” or “The check is in the mail” or “Why hasn’t that guy from The Fairbury Journal-News won a Pulitzer yet?” You know, things people say every day.
Still, Taco John’s does have standing as the originator of Taco Tuesday. It was in 1989 when the chain Taco John’s first began promoting what it called “Taco Twosday,” when customers could get two tacos for 99 cents.
Call me a cynic, but I can’t help suspect this may be more of a marketing ploy than a serious attempt to redress a serious legal concern. Taco Bell has released a statement entitled, “The Liberation Of ‘Taco Tuesday’.”
The statement reads, in part, “How can anyone Live Más if they’re not allowed to freely say ‘Taco Tuesday?’ It’s pure chaos.”
It doesn’t exactly read like it was written by Oliver Wendell Holmes.
By the way. There are a great many quotes available from Sun Tzu’s oft quoted but rarely read book, “The Art of War.” If you are wondering how I came to choose this particular bit of wisdom to begin my column, well, I don’t understand it even a little bit. Therefore, I assume it is extremely profound.


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