Good Dog Hot Dogs: A Cautionary Tale for Small Businesses

good_dog_hot_dogs_truck_sm.jpg
Jaime Lagdameo
Houstonians have become used to seeing this attractive food truck with its bright yellow and red dachshund logo.

The Good Dog Hot Dogs truck has almost disappeared from the Internet overnight, even though they are very much still in business. On September 19, both their Facebook page and Web site were taken down. The same day, the popular food truck posted to Twitter:

"Our apologies, we're currently working on temporary/permanent solutions to our lack of [Facebook] and website. Twitter is the only way to see updates."

An underscore now appears after the company's Twitter handle. Instead of @gooddoghotdogs they are now "@gooddoghotdogs_" and the name now reads "Eat Well & Live Long."

Brand recognition takes a long time to build, but can be destroyed overnight when a "cease and desist" letter shows up. The smaller the business, the more harmful the repercussions can be.

When Good Dog Hot Dogs was in the process of starting their company, they dutifully searched the United States Patent and Trademark Office database to ensure that no one else had registered the name. No one had, so they proceeded to open their business, design a crisp yellow and red logo and get their food truck painted. They couldn't afford to hire someone to do their Web site, so they did it themselves using WordPress. They started a Twitter presence as @gooddoghotdogs.

On February 15, 2011, they received a Tweet from a man named Bruce Keith. He runs a food cart in Colorado. "Ooops - you've chosen a user name which is a trademark of my company in Colorado," he said. "Check our website for proof that our company has been around since 2003 - www.gooddoghotdogs.com."

gooddogs_twitter_exchange.png
These Tweets from February 15, 2011, were the first indicator to Good Dog Hot Dogs that there might be a problem with their company name.

That wasn't quite true, because in trademark law, simply sticking a ™ next to your business name on your Web site does not necessarily make it a trademark. According to an overview of trademark law at the Berkman Center at Harvard University Web site:

"Assuming that a trademark qualifies for protection, rights to a trademark can be acquired in one of two ways: (1) by being the first to use the mark in commerce; or (2) by being the first to register the mark with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office ("PTO"). 15 U.S.C. � 1127(a)."

"The paint was still dripping off the truck when this person contacted us on Twitter," said Daniel Caballero of the Houston-based Good Dog Hot Dogs. "We believed we did our homework and he did not actually have a trademark. Besides that, we're in Houston and he's in a different state. What threat are we to him?" Caballero requested proof of the Colorado man's claim.

There is a question as to whether the Colorado Good Dogs Hot Dogs used the mark in commerce before the Houston Good Dog Hot Dogs. What is not in question is that after the Twitter exchange, both companies filed for trademark with the U.S. PTO. The Colorado company filed first, though. The Houston-based Good Dog Hot Dogs received an "Office Action," which is a letter sent by the U.S. PTO when there are problems with the trademark application.

good_dog_amalia_sm.jpg
Jaime Lagdameo
Amalia Pferd puts the finishing touches on one of Good Dog Hot Dogs' acclaimed footlongs.
An attorney retained by the Houston company advised them that since the Colorado company had been in business since 2004 (and had also registered the domain name gooddoghotdogs.com the same year), it was pointless to continue with the trademark registration. "You're not going to win," he said.

According to Caballero, as soon as Keith had his trademark letter in hand, he contacted Facebook, Twitter and WordPress with his claim of infringement.

Facebook deleted the Houston Good Dog Hot Dog page. "If he flags us on Facebook one more time, we'll be banned altogether," says Caballero. WordPress removed the Web site, even though it was not the gooddoghotdogs.com domain. (The Houston company was using www.gooddogfoodtruck.com.)

Twitter was kinder, only adding an underscore to the Houston company's Twitter handle. Unlike WordPress and Facebook, they didn't completely delete the account. "He's going after Yelp now," says Caballero.

It is likely that Good Dog Hot Dogs in Houston will have to change its name, and that comes at a heavy price. The truck will have to be repainted and new marketing materials produced. Caballero estimates the cost of rebranding will be around $3,000 (closer to $4,000 if they retain an attorney to assist with trademarking the new name). The cost of the loss of brand recognition will be harder to quantify, but significant nonetheless.

The lesson to be learned from Good Dog Hot Dog's story is that small businesses need to file for trademark with the U.S. PTO as soon as possible, ideally with the assistance of an attorney. Businesses that do not file for a trademark risk the wrath of a vengeful business owner... even if the business is in another state.

There is some happy news, though. Caballero believes they are close to signing on a small storefront location in the Heights. There's a good chance the sign won't say "Good Dog Hot Dogs."

Good Dog Hot Dogs in Colorado has not yet responded to an e-mailed request for comments on the situation.



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Location Info

Good Dog Hot Dogs

Mobile, Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

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43 comments
FarleyFlavors
FarleyFlavors

Something strange here. They "dutifully searched the United States Patent and Trademark Office database to ensure that no one else had registered the name", and yet they registered their website as gooddogfoodtruck.com. Surely they would have checked whether or not they could use gooddoghotdogs.com and have found out this way that the business name was taken ?

HeighttsGuy
HeighttsGuy

The Colo. guy has a FB page - maybe we should post his actions there, so his customers can see what a jerk he is.

Sid Jacobson
Sid Jacobson

Yet, their hot dogs are still very tasty... bring me one.

Travis Ingram
Travis Ingram

They should start a Kickstarter to raise money for the re-branding. I'm sure Houstonians would love to help out a local business.

Ulf Wallin
Ulf Wallin

Besides, we all love the under dog :) Could not resist...

_sid.
_sid.

Yet their hotdogs are still tasty!

Ulf Wallin
Ulf Wallin

There is no such thing as bad press for the people in Houston! Play it up to the hilt and tis might just work in their favor! A Good Hot Dog is hard to find!

Jenn Gardner
Jenn Gardner

Colorado Good Dog should be HAPPY to be confused with Houston Good Dog Hot Dog. Colorado's web "design" is the worst I've seen in a long time. And their dogs don't look very good either.

GoodDogHouston
GoodDogHouston

@sensestorm @EatingOurWords thank you for sharing our story! We'll keep you updated on what happens next. Come by the truck sometime!

soprano1965
soprano1965

The America Invents Act will clear up these future arguments, it's very confusing. Starting next spring, first to file wins.

soprano1965
soprano1965

you don't file with the state, no such thing. You file with the US Patent Trademark Office. It's all federal. While it was nice they conducted their own amateur search, however had they spent a few hundred bucks having someone file the application for them, a registered patent examiner in Washington would have found that Colorado business and sent them an Office Action claiming the name was taken and they cannot file for a trademark, and they would have known to keep looking for a different name.  I sympathize with the business, but due diligence was unfortunately not done. 

Joëlle Eid
Joëlle Eid

I have a lot of things to say but Facebook might ban ME with the language I wanna use regarding the jerk in Colorado. NO ONE can F with Daniel and Amalia. Seriously, nicest people ever and their hot dogs are amazing. KEITH, GO PICK ON SOMEONE YOUR OWN SIZE.

FRL713
FRL713

Filing a trademark/servicemark with the State of Texas is not difficult or costly.  Just do it folks and you will save yourself this headache.  It is wise to also file nationally or in all states that you plan to operate,

texmex01
texmex01 topcommenter

Just change it to Bad Dog, and have a bulldog with a leather jacket and studded collar , problem solved!

gossamersixteen
gossamersixteen topcommenter

Sorry too, they make a fantastic dog.. Really wanted a corn dog from them this weekend.. Best of luck to them, will be missed at buchanan's this weekend..

meetMayra
meetMayra

@EatingOurWords that guy from Colorado sounds like a real turd sandwich.

FuckYeasher
FuckYeasher

@sp0ka @EatingOurWords jesus fucking christ look at that website

Houstess
Houstess

Keith dude sounds vindictive without a purpose.  Some people just thrive on that shite.  

UrbanSwank
UrbanSwank

That really sucks ass! I would be so upset. Really sorry to hear they are having to go through the hassle of changing their name. ~ UG

Kylejack
Kylejack topcommenter

 @FarleyFlavors I don't buy it either. Googling it definitely should have pulled up at least the Yelp review going back to 2007. They say that the paint was still dripping when they were notified of the name dispute. Why, then, wouldn't that be a perfect time to change the name of the business, before customers learn the name? Why 1.5 years later were they still using the same name?

Kylejack
Kylejack topcommenter

 @HeighttsGuy I don't think what he did was very jerky. He's been using the name longer. He tried to resolve the issue politely a year and a half ago, but they continued to use the name, so he exercised his rights.

sensestorm
sensestorm

@GoodDogHotDogs_ Are you going to be at the @MFUHouston event on Sunday?

Kylejack
Kylejack topcommenter

 @FRL713 Yeah, probably the filing process would have unearthed this other business and saved them a lot of money on changing up the name later.

phaedra.cook
phaedra.cook

 @gossamersixteen And they will likely have to come up with a new business name unless some sort of agreement can be reached.

phaedra.cook
phaedra.cook

 @gossamersixteen They're still very much alive and in business! They've just lost their web site, original Twitter handle and Facebook page.

sp0ka
sp0ka

@FuckYeasher member of the national association of hot dog vendors. @EatingOurWords

timblack2
timblack2 topcommenter

 @Houstess Well kinda. Have a brand yourself for 10 years, watch someone else use that name, and see how you'd react. Playing Devil's Advocate here but that's the reality.I love Good Dog (just hung out with them Monday at Beaver's) but in hindsight, even if they filed for the mark a year and a half ago, this still may have happened. Most likely they didn't go after it because it's another thousand bucks to file and they probably thought that money would be better spent elsewhere, as a small start up. Totally understandable.And putting the TM does help. If you've been in business since 2003 and you file in 2011, you are reinforcing that you've had the mark for 8 years Putting a TM helps and the approval from the USPTO is sort of a retrofit, so to speak.All we can do now is help our Good Dog out and let our friends know when they change their name and that our Good Dog is still around selling great food. Maybe a follow up from Phaedra when the new name is in effect? 

GoodDogHouston
GoodDogHouston

@sensestorm @mfuhouston absolutely! We'll be there for support, we won't be selling.

timblack2
timblack2 topcommenter

 @Kylejack  @FRL713 possible. he didn't file the mark either. but he did use it in commerce first.

Houstess
Houstess

 @timblack2  @Houstess I refer to the harassment on social media, did they attempt discussions with the Houston folks first, or did they just report (and apparently, reported more than once on FB so that they are in danger of a lifetime ban??).  Also, since they are in another state, I don't see the need to pull out such big guns in the first place.  Unless they intend to become the next McDonald's of dogs.

timblack2
timblack2 topcommenter

 @Houstess And Phaedra, I will say  that the source you quoted does make his mark valid. Sticking a TM on something can go a loooooong way sometimes. It's #1 in the snippet you quoted."Assuming that a trademark qualifies for protection, rights to a trademark can be acquired in one of two ways: (1) by being the first to use the mark in commerce;The guy in Colorado WAS the first to use it in commerce. That's huge. And it wouldn't have shown up in the USPTO search because he didn't file either. He didn't do #2  (file the mark), which also makes it valid, but he certainly did #1.Ideally you do both. But I'm guessing he didn't want to plunk down a grand in 2003. So he just went with it, and it wasn't an issue until he saw someone else using the mark.

Kylejack
Kylejack topcommenter

 @timblack2  @FRL713 I assume it's like a patent application, where PTO goes looking on their own for prior art (or prior business name, in this case).

kshilcutt
kshilcutt moderator editortopcommenter

 @gossamersixteen Danke! Ich habe Deutsch gelernt bei der Uni, und ich habe nach Deutschland und Osterreich gereist. Ich liebe beide. Und Deutsch ist so eine schöne Sprache...

timblack2
timblack2 topcommenter

 @Houstess Are you referring to the 3 tweets above, or was there more? I would hardly call those harassing. And there is nothing to discuss really. He owned the mark. Period.

 

I can't speak about if he talked to Molly and Danny. You would have to ask them but clearly they didn't change their name or reach an agreement in Feb of 2011 and went forward with using the name. Which in turn prompted him to secure the mark with the USPTO, which he had established in 2003 by using that mark in commerce.And that was 18 months ago, so this has been in the works for a while if this just happened with FB and twitter. He has every right to enforce his mark. And he clearly was in the right as FB, Wordpress and Twitter responded. They won't just lightly take your page down without some legal backing.

 

Securing your mark in the digital world is vital now. I would hardly call that "the big guns." Not sure if you own your own business but practically the first thing you do is go get your site and social media stuff in place before anything. Heck look at Buffalo Bayou Brewing who had a FB page a year before they started brewing. How long has Seth and Terrence had a FB page for Pass & Provisions and they aren't even officially open yet.

 

And who knows what his intent is. If he does want to be the McDonalds of hot dogs he would have to secure the mark nationally or globally.

 

Remove the emotion and our love of Good Dog and see it for what it is. It's business. And he beat them to the mark by years. 

phaedra.cook
phaedra.cook

 @timblack2  @Houstess Have you ever read the U.S. PTO documents, or tried to navigate the logo section of their web site? I'd hire an attorney just to get out of having to look at the site.

timblack2
timblack2 topcommenter

 @phaedra.cook  @Houstess Yup. It sure would be. Unfortunately, I think they are going to have to change names. The cost and time to fight this is not worth it. I like the idea of Bad Dog (research it!) and having you write another article to get the word out, rather than an article about the tedium of trademark law ;)

phaedra.cook
phaedra.cook

 @timblack2  @Houstess Tim, I lean towards your point of view on the validity of the Colorado trademark. What I didn't want to get into was what it means to "use a mark in commerce," because that could probably be a whole 'nother article. ;)

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