Until this week, we could not have enjoyed Taco Tuesday at Taco Bell.
The reason is a story about ownership.
In its 400 locations, everywhere except New Jersey, Taco John has had the exclusive trademarked right to offer diners Taco Tuesday. As a result, when LeBron James tried to trademark the term in 2019, he was told,” No.”
Meanwhile, hoping to celebrate Taco Tuesday in their U.S. and international locations, Taco Bell filed an appeal with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Saying no one has the right to own so common a phrase, they requested a trademark reversal. During this past week, they got the go ahead. Everywhere but New Jersey, Taco Bell can do Taco Tuesday.
You might be wondering why New Jersey is the exception. In my home state, a man named Gregory Gegory who owns a bar named Gregory’s (really) has trademarked Taco Tuesday since 1982. He explained to a Slate reporter that he created the name for his Jersey Shore bar to popularize tacos at a time when few of us knew about them. After a friend suggested that he trademark the name, he proceeded, and the rest of the story is history. Since then, he says he sold over 2 million.
As a New Jersey single unit business, he was happy to limit his Taco Tuesday rights locally. Settling in court, he said, “We’ll take New Jersey. You can have the rest,”
Our Bottom Line: Genericide
Our question today is about Gregory Gregory. Having created the name, Taco Tuesday, to what extent can he own it? During June we looked at genericide. I wonder if the Taco Tuesday battle is similar. Then, we called it a popularity problem.
Like Taco Tuesday, our story began with names that got trademark protection. The moving stairway became the escalatior. The vacuum flask was the thermos. But then, each had its trademark reversed when the name became generic. Called genericide, trademark cancellation strikes when you get too much of what you wish for. It reflects the transfer of ownership from the creator to everyone.
Concluding with the need to protect property in a market economy, we can ask who should “own” Taco Tuesday? Taco John? Gregory Gregory? Everyone?
My sources and more: Thanks to my Axios for alerting me to the Taco Tuesday trademark battle. From there, Slate, NPR and CNN had more detail, In addition, to contemplate what we can and cannot own, do take a look at Mine!