Deli sues feds for refusing to trademark its 'Philadelphia's Cheesesteak'

Mike Campo (left), standing outside his Old City shop with children Mia and Mike, tried to get a patent for the phrase written on the awning. The trademark office rejected him, so he sued.
Mike Campo (left), standing outside his Old City shop with children Mia and Mike, tried to get a patent for the phrase written on the awning. The trademark office rejected him, so he sued. (STEVEN M. FALK / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER)
Posted: October 12, 2012

MAYBE MIKE CAMPO has a legitimate beef with bureaucrats at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

The Old City sandwich shop Campo's Deli at Market has sued the director of the Patent and Trademark Office, David Kappos, in federal court over the rejection of Campo's bid to trademark "Philadelphia's Cheesesteak."

Campo's claims in its civil complaint that its sandwich is "so superlative" and "gloriously gluttonous" that only it could be called "Philadelphia's Cheesesteak."

A claim any reputable Philadelphia cheesesteak proprietor might make, right? Probably, but Campo believes that his is the real deal.

"I make my cheesesteaks as if I were making them for my own mother," he said.

He also said he uses a "really good, steer ribeye steak" from Minnesota that is "marbled" better than most ribeye beef.

Marbling refers to the fat content in ribeye which, when grilled, makes it juicy and tender, Campo says. "You can taste the difference. It's almost like eating filet [mignon]."

Campo's attorney, J. Conor Corcoran, said the mark is necessary for Campo's to expand its business to cities in other states.

"It will help them franchise," Corcoran said. "If we want to be the sterling benchmark for the Philadelphia cheesesteak, we need that mark."

Campo's flagship is on Market Street near 2nd and it has satellite locations at Citizens Bank Park, Wells Fargo Center and Liacouras Center.

The complaint, first reported by Courthouse News, said Campo's was not trying to control "Philadelphia Cheesesteak," which Campo's says describes a "generic kind of sandwich."

In August, the trademark appeal board upheld a decision to refuse Campo's mark because it was "likely to cause confusion" with other marks and was mainly "geographically descriptive" of its sandwich.

The trademark office previously registered three trademarks to Philadelphia's Cheesesteak Co., Philadelphia Cheesesteak Co. and the Original Philadelphia Cheesesteak Co.

But Campo's contends those marks are different because they identify a "company" specializing in the wholesale distribution of sliced ribeye. Campo's mark, conversely, concerns the identification of a particular kind of sandwich, the complaint said.

Campo's said it's been using "Philadelphia's Cheesesteak" at its four locations and on its website since at least Jan. 1, 2009.


Contact Michael Hinkelman at hinkelm@phillynews.com or 215-854-2656. Follow him on Twitter @MHinkelman.

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