Forget the Mercer Cafe Lawsuit: It’s All Out War in the Tacconelli’s Pizza Family

Left: The neon sign at the original Tacconelli’s Pizzeria in Philadelphia. (Photo via Flickr Creative Commons) Right: Vincent Tacconelli, who stands accused of fraudulently obtaining the trademark for the brand. (Photo via HughE Dillon)

Not long ago, we told you about a bona fide family feud that had erupted between the folks behind the Tony Luke’s cheesesteak empire. Well, it seems that the world of iconic Philly pizzerias is not immune to such infighting.

On Tuesday, we reported that Vincent Tacconelli from the New Jersey outpost of the iconic Philadelphia pizzeria had filed a federal lawsuit against the Mercer Cafe at the Navy Yard, claiming that the eatery was selling Tacconelli’s pizza in violation of his trademark.

But now we’ve learned that the owner of the original Tacconelli’s location has taken action against Vincent, accusing him of fraudulently obtaining that trademark in the first place.

Back in February, Tacconelli’s Philadelphia owner John Tacconelli — that’s Vincent’s older brother — filed a request with the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board, a department of the United States Patent & Trademark Office in Washington D.C., to cancel Vincent Tacconelli’s trademark on “Tacconelli’s Pizzeria,” a trademark that Vincent applied for in 2002 and received in 2003, the same year that Vincent opened his Maple Shade location.

In his lawsuit against Mercer Cafe, Vincent says that his father assigned the assets of the company to him in 1997, while Vincent was still working in the original location. (The father has since passed.) In his petition to the trademark office, John concedes that his father did sign over certain rights over to Vincent, but John insists that their father had no idea that Vincent was going to try to get the trademark.

John claims that his younger brother used his own home address for all correspondence relating to the trademark registration, so no one else in the family, including the father, would have had any notice of it. John asserts that he had no clue that Vincent had obtained the trademark until 2015 and alleges that Vincent made “false statements” to the trademark office in order to get and keep the trademark over the year.

John’s petition describes Vincent’s actions as “fraudulent.” Since John’s trademark office filing in February, Vincent has opened yet another Tacconelli’s, this one inside the SugarHouse Casino, less than two miles from the original Tacconelli’s in Port Richmond.

In documents filed with the trademark office, Vincent denies all of his older brother’s allegations. And he sent Foobooz a written response to John’s actions against him. “My response is short and honest,” wrote Vincent. “The trademark was obtained legally over ten years ago.”

“It’s a difficult case to prove in trademark court,” says prominent Philadelphia trademark attorney Jordan LaVine from the firm Flaster Greenberg. (LaVine’s clients include Martha Stewart and the New York Times.) “There has to be clear and convincing evidence that the person deceived the trademark office. Vincent may have, in his own mind, felt that he did have an ownership right.”

As for Vincent’s lawsuit, Mercer Cafe owner Thomas Woltjen sent us the following:

Mercer Café strongly disputes the claims against it, intends to vigorously defend itself against those claims, and expects to prevail at trial. The Complaint filed by Tacconelli’s Empire fails to mention that John Tacconelli, the owner of the original Tacconelli’s Pizzeria at 2604 Somerset Street, commenced a separate proceeding against Tacconelli’s Empire to cancel Tacconelli’s Empire’s alleged trademark in “Tacconelli’s Pizzeria.” In that proceeding John Tacconelli asserts that his brother Vincent, who founded Tacconelli’s Empire, obtained a trademark in “Tacconelli’s Pizzeria” through fraud.

We guess it’s as the old saying goes: We’ll see you in court.

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