Filing and maintaining trademarks is often part of doing business: You create intellectual property and you want to protect it. But determining what can and can't be trademarked is a tricky business. For instance, in 2019, someone tried to trademark the term "breakfast burrito" despite the term having already reached colloquial status. (That application is now dead.)
In London, an equally unexpected legal battle could be set to play out: A restaurant named "Taqueria" was granted a trademark for the word nearly two decades ago, and now, they've sent another Mexican restaurant a cease and desist letter simply for using the term "Taqueria" in their name.
Sonora Taqueria says they received a 20-page letter from Worldwide Taqueria — the ownership group behind London's two Taqueria restaurants — on September 6 accusing Sonora of trademark infringement, according to Eater London. Needless to say, Sonora was surprised by the letter seeing as they are a Mexican restaurant specializing in tacos — you know, kind of the definition of a taqueria.
Sam Napier, one of Sonora's owners, told Eater he believed they may have grounds to fight the request. "If you copyright something, it has to be non-descriptive and distinctive. And the use of the word 'taqueria' is descriptive and non-distinctive," he was quoted as saying. "For [Taqueria] it's the name of a company, but for anybody else, it's descriptive. It's describing what your company does. And it's not distinctive, because there can be many taquerias, just as there can be many pizzerias."
Interestingly, Taqueria originally filed its trademark claim back in 2004 — a time where Mexican food was far less prevalent on the British Isles. "I imagine there were very few places in the U.K. using the word 'taqueria,'" Napier continued. "But now there's lots of them."
For their part, Ismael Munoz, Taqueria's operations manager, told Eater, "As with all U.K. trademark registrations, the provisions of the Trademarks Act grant the proprietor the exclusive right to the trade mark, and those rights are infringed when the trade mark is used in the U.K. by another undertaking without the proprietor's consent."
Still, that doesn't preclude a trademark from being invalidated in certain cases, so if Sonora decides to move forward with legal action, this disagreement is far from over.
Meanwhile, Sonora's other owner, Michelle Salazar de la Rocha — whose family runs the Pollo Feliz restaurant chain in Mexico — had a slightly different take. "It is just so stupid. And the response from Mexicans has been, like, outrage. Because it's ridiculous," she told Eater. "Everybody thinks that there's no good Mexican food in the U.K. But if you can't even call your taco place a taqueria, where do you even start?"