Taco Bell Is Desperately Trying To Save Taco Tuesday

Taco Bell filed a legal petition against Taco Johns, who currently has a trademark on Taco Tuesday, as they try to free the famous catchphrase.

By Chris Snellgrove | Updated

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These days, it’s not uncommon for major companies like Disney or Nintendo to protect trademarks in such an extreme way that it actually hurts the average consumer. Now, though, a company is stepping up to fight insane trademark laws, and it’s probably the last company you’d expect to take a bold stance in favor of free speech. Taco Bell is now fighting to end the trademark surrounding the term “Taco Tuesdays,” going so far as to file a legal petition intended to help them “liberate the phrase” for restaurant owners everywhere.

The response most people have had to Taco Bell’s surprise fight against this trademark has been the same: “how the hell do you trademark a term like ‘taco Tuesday?’” It’s understandable when Marvel copyrights unique characters that it came up with in order to protect the character’s image from getting abused. But it’s difficult to swallow this particular trademark story, and no amount of Mild Sauce will make it go down any easier. 

The origin of this Taco Bell trademark dispute goes back to the 1980s, and it started with a different Mexican food franchise: Taco John’s. Back in the early days of Dungeons and Dragons and members-only jackets, Taco Johns created “Taco Twosday,” a promotion where customers could get two tacos for only $.99. The restaurant ended up changing the phrase to “Taco Tuesday” and trademarked the phrase in 1989, making it a prominent part of their marketing.

For this reason, the company has actively protected that trademark, going so far as to send cease-and-desist letters to any other restaurants trying to use that phrase for their own promotions. Taco Bell has taken the stance that the phrase “should belong to all who make, sell, eat, and celebrate tacos.” And while this is all an obvious marketing stunt on Taco Bell’s part, we must admit that most people we know who use the phrase “taco Tuesdays” have never even heard of Taco John’s.

Of course, Taco John’s is now trying to use Taco Bell’s legal challenge of their trademark as part of their own marketing. Right now, they are running a promotion where customers can purchase two tacos for $2, and that promotion runs until the end of the month. In the meantime, Taco John’s has up to 40 days to file a response to this trademark petition, and if neither company can come to an agreement, this could turn into the kind of ugly trial that not even lawyer-turned-superhero Daredevil could sort out.

Right now, it’s anyone’s guess as to whether or not Taco John’s will be able to preserve their trademark or if Taco Bell will prevail. From a legal standpoint, it seems like this will largely come down to whether a judge would believe the average person is thinking about Taco John’s whenever they host their own Taco Tuesday or that the average Mexican restaurant is knowingly violating trademark whenever they offer a local Tuesday special. From our vantage point, we can merely cheer on Taco Bell and unexpected allies like Jack in the Box and hope they “live más” all the way to a resounding legal victory.