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The Velvet Elvis and Other Trademark Absurdities

Your Intrepid IP Abolitionist Outside the Velvet Melvin pub, nee The Velvet Elvis Pub, in Houston

Yeah, patent and copyright are the big IP baddies–but trademark isn’t that hot, either. (See my posts Trademark versus Copyright and Patent, or: Is All IP Evil?; Trademarks Ain’t so hot, either…; The Patent, Copyright, Trademark, and Trade Secret Horror Files; and Trademark and Goats-on-the-Roof Bans; see also various posts on trademark collected at C4SIF.)

A good example of trademark absurdity can be found here in Houston. Every now and then I pass by the Velvet Melvin Pub. See, it used to be called The Velvet Elvis, after the famous print showing a velvet version of Elvis Presley. So Elvis Presley’s estate sues the pub, forcing it to close. According to the Houston Chronicle, it reopened as Woody’s Place, then changed to the Velvet Melvin. One might object that the Framers of the Constitution would not have contemplated federal power being used to shut down a pub like this, but then, the federal trademark law is unconstitutional anyway, since it is not authorized in the Constitution (only patent and copyright are).

Another infamous trademark dispute related to Houston involves the competing taco chains Two Pesos and Taco Cabana. As Wikipedia explains, Two Pesos “was similar to Taco Cabana but Two Pesos never opened in Taco Cabana’s home market of San Antonio. The Two Pesos chain was sold to Taco Cabana in 1993 after losing a drawn-out trademark suit that appeared before the United States Supreme Court. …

Mises Academy: Stephan Kinsella teaches Rethinking Intellectual Property: History, Theory, and Economics“Two Pesos was started in 1985 by Houston restaurateur Marno McDermot, who had been in negotiations with Taco Cabana’s management to take the patio-restaurant chain nationwide. When Taco Cabana’s founding Stehling brothers rejected his advances, McDermot decided to open up his own chain of similarly-themed patio-dining Tex-Mex restaurants under the Two Pesos name. When Taco Cabana entered the Houston market, they sued Two Pesos for stealing their business concepts and “trade dress.”” I.e., they had similar layouts and colors. I.e., this suit penalized market competition.

For those interested in this topic, see my article Rethinking IP, which discussed my upcoming Mises Academy Course Rethinking Intellectual Property, a six-week course starting this Tuesday, March 22.

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To the extent possible under law, Stephan Kinsella has waived all copyright and related or neighboring rights to C4SIF. This work is published from: United States. In the event the CC0 license is unenforceable a  Creative Commons License Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License is hereby granted.