There must be something in the air to do with tacos these days. On the heels of our post about the silly efforts chain Taco John's is undertaking to retain sole trademark ownership of the ubiquitous "Taco Tuesdays" phrase, we have another trademark dispute involving everyone's favorite hispanic delicacy. In this instance, however, the focus of this post won't be on the dispute between the two restaurants, but we can start there anyway.
A Vermont business that is only a few months old is changing its name following a cease and desist notice from another restaurant group clear across the country.
The owner of a 10-week-old taco business said he'll change its name after a California-based restaurant's lawyer claimed it infringes on theirs. Tito Garza, 29, of Brattleboro, received a cease-and-desist notice last week from a Los Angeles trademark lawyer demanding he stop using the name, Tito's Tacos of Vermont.
The lawyer, Greg Victoroff of Greg Victoroff & Associates, said "Tito's Tacos is the exclusive registered trademark of Tito's Tacos Mexican restaurant in Culver City, California."
Garza said he doesn't have the resources to tangle with a law firm in California, so he'll change the name of his venture, though he hasn't decided what yet.
So, yeah, that's annoying. A guy can't name his restaurant after himself because of a trademark owned by another company clear across the nation. We could spend some time discussing whether there is any actual customer confusion to be had here, or whether or not a trademark consisting of a common name and a common food was worthy of such protection. But, instead, let's focus on the other part of this trademark dispute.
It seems that the lawyers for the Tito's Tacos in California are a bit confused as to how trademark law works in conjunction with the basic federal laws governing how the press operates. The link above comes from the Brattleboro Reformer, a news group focusing on local news in Vermont. By reporting previously about a local food festival, and including images of Tito Garza selling his tacos at it, the lawyer for Tito's Tacos seems to think it too has violated his client's trademark rights.
Meanwhile, Victoroff also has requested that the Brattleboro Reformer remove from its website a picture of Garza selling tacos at the Brattleboro BaconFest because his Tito's Tacos banner hangs in the background. The photo, taken on Saturday, Sept. 17, also was the main image on the front page of the Monday, Sept. 19, Reformer.
"The news story and photograph appearing at [the Reformer's website] ... is infringing the Tito's Tacos trademark by displaying and distributing content referring to a food vendor named Tito Garza using the Tito's Tacos trademark in Brattleboro, Vermont, and elsewhere in violation of state and federal trademark law," Victoroff wrote in an email to the Reformer.
Nothing about that is remotely correct. To start with, the news group can simply shout "fair use!" and walk away from the threat, because news organizations have a longstanding right to include images of the subjects on which they report. Imagine if, in an age where media is dominated by the image, a company could demand takedown of any trademark-related images in this manner. Reporting would breakdown entirely, particularly on television. Add to that that the one allegedly violating the trademark in question is Tito Garza, not the news group, and one wonders how this threat could get any dumber.
Unsurprisingly, The Reformer has declined to remove the image.
"The photo in question depicts a local food vendor whose sign identifies his business as Tito's Tacos," wrote Rutberg. "While this use of the name Tito's Tacos may indeed infringe on your client's registered trademark, it is our opinion that the photo in question does not constitute an infringement of your client's trademark. At best it is a 'fair use' of trademarked material."
Rather than accept this lesson and lick his wounds, Victoroff actually responded by insisting the paper was wrong and again demanding the image be taken down. It hasn't been, of course.
One wonders if this ignorance of the law might give Tito Garza pause as to whether this is a fight he can win.