By Blake Brittain
(Reuters) -Yum Brands Inc' Taco Bell Corp on Tuesday asked the U.S. Trademark Office to cancel two smaller rivals' "Taco Tuesday" trademarks in what the largest Mexican fast-food chain in the U.S. called a bid to "liberate the phrase for restaurants nationwide."
Taco Bell's petitions said the trademarks, owned by Gregory's Restaurant & Bar in New Jersey and Wyoming-based Taco John's in the rest of the country, wrongly monopolize the use of the phrase in the restaurant industry.
"Nobody should have exclusive rights in a common phrase," the petitions said. "Can you imagine if we weren’t allowed to say 'what's up' or 'brunch'? Chaos."
The company said in a statement that it was not requesting money damages or its own "Taco Tuesday" trademark, but "simply seeks common sense for usage of a common term."
Gregory's Restaurant & Bar co-owner Gregory Gregory told Reuters the Somers Point, New Jersey, restaurant came up with "Taco Tuesday" in 1979 and has been using it to sell "hundreds of thousands, if not millions" of tacos since.
"We're the little guy here," and larger companies have tried to "steamroll us because we came up with a good idea," Gregory said. The company has had its federal trademark since 1995.
Taco John's has owned its "Taco Tuesday" trademark registration since 1989.
"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," Taco John's CEO Jim Creel said in a statement.
Taco Bell said both marks should be canceled because the phrase is generic and does not identify a specific source of goods.
The U.S. Trademark Office in 2019 denied basketball legend LeBron James' application for a "Taco Tuesday" trademark covering podcasting, social media advertising and other fields, finding in part that it is a "commonplace term."
The office last year cited similar reasons for rejecting a brewery's bid for a federal "Taco Tuesday" mark covering beer.
(Reporting by Blake Brittain in WashingtonEditing by David Bario and Marguerita Choy)