Permission Culture Infects Texas: Rodeos Or A Mexican Restaurant, Who Can Tell Them Apart?

from the que? dept

Just when you think you've heard it all, along comes a story so ridiculous it's hard to write headlines for it that do it justice. We can still try, I guess. For pure hilarious complications, it's hard to outdo the state of Texas denying Rodeo Austin, which puts on a fair and rodeo down south, a registration for its name because its name is supposedly too similar to El Rodeo Inc., a Mexican restaurant that doesn't appear to exist.

This all came about because a well-established rodeo fair that had previously been known as The Star of Texas Fair and Rodeo has since become better known simply as Rodeo Austin. The rodeo has a federal trademark registration on that new name and likewise sought to register it as its official business name with the state of Texas. The Texas Secretary of State rejected the application.

In its decision, the Secretary of State’s office wrote that Rodeo Austin was too similar to El Rodeo Inc., a Mexican restaurant located – or at least once was -- north of Houston in the city of Conroe. In its rejection, the Texas Secretary of State wrote that “the only significant difference between your proposed name and the entity name on file is the geographic designation at the end of the name,” and ruled the two names to be deceptively similar. Thus, Rodeo Austin would be required to get permission from El Rodeo to use its desired corporate name.
If this has the ring of trademark law to it, it unfortunately doesn't borrow enough from trademark law. A brief persual of the rules for registering businesses in Texas, and specifically what constitutes business names that are too similar to be registered or are deceptive in nature, leaves out any language about actual consumer confusion or competitive markets. This is one of the most important provisions in trademark law, one which disallows for the ownership of common langauge for every use in every industry. And it also has the happy benefit of putting the public interest in the forefront. The rules in Texas don't do either. Specifically concerning what constitutes deceptively similar business names which cannot be registered, the statute reads:
§79.37: Entity names are deceptively similar if on comparison of the names by the secretary of state there is an apparent difference, but the difference is such that the names are likely to be confused.
Be confused by who, exactly? Because it's difficult to understand how El Rodeo Inc. and Austin Rodeo are going to result in anyone heading to the bull ring for a burrito, or wearing a matador suit to a taco stand. The Secretary of State in Texas makes a big deal about how the foreign nature of words doesn't eliminate the potential for confusion or the similarity of the business names, which, fine, but if this all comes down to the word "rodeo", in Texas of all places, how can the state allow that word to be locked up for the purposes of registration?

Oh, and how about the fact that El Rodeo probably doesn't exist any longer?
Court documents place the restaurant at 2105 W. Davis St., Suite G in Conroe, at least as of 2004. But a Smoothie King operates at that address presently. Attempts to contact the owners of the restaurant for comment on this story at a phone number listed for El Rodeo in an online business directory were not successful, answered only by a voice prompt asking for a corporate access code. That same phone number is listed as the franchise phone number for Smoothie King’s Conroe Location on the Smoothie King website.
The only confusion in this entire story appears to be just what the hell El Rodeo is and whether or not it currently exists. Austin Rodeo has filed suit to get the state to recognize its name, which it has had a federal registration for since the late nineties. I would expect them to win on the merits. The more important point is that we ought not let the permission culture bred by intellectual property propagate this way.

Filed Under: competition, confusion, restaurant, rodeo, texas, trademark
Companies: el rodeo inc., rodeo austin


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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 12 Nov 2015 @ 11:30pm

    Does the current Secretary of State in Texas somehow not know that "rodeo" is in fact a common word, likely used in dozens of places in Texas alone? Is El Rodeo Inc somehow their first rodeo?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 Nov 2015 @ 1:57am

    We have an El Rodeo where I live, in Salem VA. And several in Roanoke. They aren't very good, even by the standards for Mexican restaurants in Southwest Virginia/

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 Nov 2015 @ 5:15am

    "...if on comparison of the names by the secretary of state there is an apparent difference, but the difference is such that the names are likely to be confused.

    Be confused by who, exactly?"

    Read it again. Secretary of the State.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    Anonymous Anonymous Coward, 13 Nov 2015 @ 6:02am

    Re:

    Exactly! But it seems to me that the confusion of one person isn't going to make a great deal of difference to either business.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 Nov 2015 @ 6:34am

    I'm so confused. Started out wanting some TexMex but ended up at a rodeo. So disappointed :(

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 Nov 2015 @ 6:54am

    "...or wearing a matador suit to a taco stand."

    What does Spanish and/or Mexican bull fighting have to do with rodeos and why would anyone wear a Spanish and/or Mexican matador suit to a taco stand thinking it's a rodeo?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. identicon
    Anonymous Anonymous Coward, 13 Nov 2015 @ 7:05am

    Re:

    Give him a break, he said he was having a hard time doing this piece justice. Being from Chicago is enough penance for such simple metaphorical issues.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 Nov 2015 @ 7:31am

    Re:

    Exactly. Talk about confusion. If a Mexican restaurant can be confused with a rodeo, then I suppose a bullfight can be confused with a rodeo.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. icon
    tqk (profile), 13 Nov 2015 @ 7:48am

    Infestation?

    One of these days, I sincerely hope, the US is going wake up to the fact that their picnic is suffering an infestation. Just hope that all those annoying things crawling all over the potato salad and sandwiches, and drowning in your glasses of koolaid or beer, are ants not wasps.

    It took the Roman empire close to a thousand years to get this fouled up. You've done it in under 250; a quarter of the time.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 Nov 2015 @ 8:16am

    Re:

    ..."rodeo" is in fact a common word...

    I wonder if Texas has the same regulations as my area whereby a business name must reflect the business activity. Admittedly I have not seen that enforced and there are business names that one has to guess at the business activity. If there is in fact such regulations in Texas then El Rodeo would have a problem being a restaurant and not an actual rodeo; and Texas' SOS is doing things backward.

    The other question that must be asked: El Rodeo, Inc. means that they have incorporated. Since they are reported out of business are they still paying the annual corporate fees and filing the annual reports unless Texas doesn't require these like my area does. If El Rodeo is out of business and no longer paying and filing then why is Texas' SOS considering their name in the decision? Such decisions should involve active businesses.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. icon
    hopponit (profile), 13 Nov 2015 @ 8:22am

    El Rodeo

    I think we're missing the big picture here. The Texas AtGen isn't making a point about anything in Texas. He's sticking it to the 'Federal. Trademark laws. After all, you gotta fight Obama anyway you can!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. identicon
    Anonymous Anonymous Coward, 13 Nov 2015 @ 8:30am

    Re: Re:

    My guess is that the original restaurant didn't have the same kind of ROI as the franchise it turned into and that corporation is now DBA or doing business as Smoothie King franchise #xxxxx.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. icon
    radix (profile), 13 Nov 2015 @ 8:59am

    Court documents place the restaurant at 2105 W. Davis St., Suite G in Conroe, at least as of 2004. But a Smoothie King operates at that address presently.


    Damn it, I wanted Burger King, not Smoothie King! Why are they allowing some similar names, but not others?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 Nov 2015 @ 9:10am

    Re: Infestation?

    and even without lead poisoning, amazing actually.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 Nov 2015 @ 10:20am

    Could the state of Texas prevent them from using "Rodeo Austin" as a DBA?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16. identicon
    trollificus, 13 Nov 2015 @ 10:32am

    Re: Re:

    Wait. Wouldn't that objection apply moreso to a restaraunt calling itself a rodeo??

    Actually, a rodeo calling itself a rodeo is less confusing and should be granted rights to the name..or was that your point?

    So confused...probably need to eat something. Maybe a light lunch of bucking broncos and clowns in barrels?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17. identicon
    Zonker, 13 Nov 2015 @ 11:32am

    Re:

    I once went to a Smoothie King expecting to be knighted and ruled in such a graceful manner as to make it all seem effortless. Boy was I confused when they asked me what kind of blended fruit or vegetable beverage I wanted to order instead.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 Nov 2015 @ 6:28pm

    Re:

    No, this ain't their first rodeo... and I eagerly await Vern Gosdin's lawsuit.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19. icon
    Aaron Walkhouse (profile), 13 Nov 2015 @ 11:54pm

    The Texas Secretary of State's problem with that name is not "Rodeo", as he claimed…

    … it is, in fact, "Austin", which they do not like at all.

    Austin, you may recall, is the liberal city in the middle
    of Texas which has been gerrymandered to the point of
    political oblivion so their votes cannot threaten the
    status quo or [horrors] get representation in the state
    and federal governments.

    They hate being reminded that Austin is right there in their midst. ;]

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20. icon
    John Fenderson (profile), 14 Nov 2015 @ 10:03am

    Re:

    Perhaps it is their first rodeo.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21. identicon
    Wendy Cockcroft, 16 Nov 2015 @ 5:42am

    That "intellectual property" is widely accepted as being real and valid is at the root of this problem. We need to push back hard and insist that it's a temporary state-granted monopoly privilege, not actual property.

    The reason is, the minute someone acquires property of any kind, they put up a wall around it and erect a toll booth for using it in any way, shape, or form. That's how property works in real life and that's what the maximalists are trying to do on the internet, etc.

    If we stop letting them get away with calling trademarks, patents, and copyright "property," they can't do that any more without being called out for it. And we NEED to be calling them out for it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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