Taco Bell is fighting to cancel a rival's trademark on the phrase 'Taco Tuesday,' saying nobody should have 'exclusive rights'

  • Taco Bell is challenging trademarks on the phrase "Taco Tuesday" in a PR blitz.

  • Regional chain Taco John's holds trademarks on the phrase in almost every state.

  • It's the lastest battle over "Taco Tuesday" since LeBron James tried to trademark it in 2019.

Taco Bell is trying to free the phrase "Taco Tuesday."

The fast-food chain said Tuesday that it submitted legal petitions to challenge trademarks on the phrase. The chain says it isn't trying to take over the trademark itself: Rather, it's trying to achieve "common sense usage of a common term."

"Nobody should have should have exclusive rights in a common phrase," one of Taco Bell's petitions reads. "Can you imagine if we weren't allowed to say 'what's up' or 'brunch'? Chaos."

The taco chain has also launched a change.org petition and is planning a question-and-answer session on Reddit, known as an AMA, to bolster public support for its efforts.

Taco Bell's main opponent in this fight is Taco John's, a smaller fast food chain with a few hundred stores concentrated in the Midwest — a fraction of the 15,600 restaurants that Taco Bell operates around the US. Taco John's controls a trademark for "Taco Tuesday" in 49 states, according to Nation's Restaurant News. In New Jersey, a business called Gregory's owns the trademark, the trade publication reported.

The news page of Taco John's website on Tuesday shows tacos against a red background and a seal that says "The home of Taco Tuesday since 1989." Text in the center reads: "Ring the bell! Every day is Taco Tuesday at Taco John's!"
Taco John's website on Tuesday after it released its response to Taco Bell's petitions.Taco John's

Taco John's has held its Taco Tuesday trademarks since 1989, a fact that it reminded customers of in its response to Taco Bell's petitions on Tuesday. In a statement, the chain said it has "proudly owned the trademark" for decades since.

"When it comes right down to it, we're lovers, not fighters, at Taco John's," CEO Jim Creel said. "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."

But Taco John's did not invent the phrase, according to Gustavo Arellano, the author of "Taco USA: How Mexican Food Conquered America, " who studied the origins of the phrase. The phrase has been used since the 1970s, while promotions for tacos on Tuesdays have been around since the 1930s, he told Marketplace in 2019. 

"Taco John's, despite all of its claims to the contrary, did not invent Taco Tuesday — nowhere even close to inventing Taco Tuesday," Arellano told Marketplace.

Taco John's said Tuesday that it would sell two crispy or soft-shell tacos for $2 as a promotion through the end of May. The brand called the deal "'unrelated news" to Taco Bell's petitions.

The PR stunts aren't the first time there's been a public dispute over the ownership of "Taco Tuesday" as a trademark.

NBA star LeBron James tried to trademark the phrase in 2019. The effort failed after the US Patent and Trademark Office, which is in charge of evaluating applications for marks or challenges like Taco Bell's, decided that the phrase is "a commonplace term, message or expression widely used by a variety of sources that merely conveys an ordinary, familiar, well-recognized concept or sentiment," the New York Times reported at the time.

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