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What’s in a name? The battle for the ‘Eat Bulaga!’ trademark

By NICK GARCIA Published Jun 09, 2023 6:09 pm

Relationships, especially those that are professional in nature, are bound to end—and, in many cases, end on a bitter note.

For weeks now, GMA Network’s Eat Bulaga! has prevailed social media and news articles from Aparri to Jolo after its hosts—the triumvirate of Tito Sotto, Vic Sotto, and Joey De Leon (TVJ)—severed ties with the show’s production company TAPE Inc. after over four decades of business together amid problems involving creativity, respect, and money.

TVJ and EB staff members who jumped on the resignation bandwagon found a new partner in TV5 and are set to work on a new show. TAPE, meanwhile, went on business as usual and introduced an ensemble of new hosts for Eat Bulaga!.

Like a dysfunctional marriage with a child in the picture, something is caught in the crossfire in the tussle: the very Eat Bulaga! brand itself. The opposing parties are now in a trademark and copyright tug-of-war regarding its rightful owner.

There is an ongoing dispute between Tito Sotto, Vic Sotto, and Joey De Leon and the show's producer TAPE Inc. over the Eat Bulaga! trademark.


For Tito, it’s none other than TVJ. He said the show premiered in 1979 after producer Antonio Tuviera tapped them to host a noontime show for RPN or Radio Philippines Network. It’s two years later, or 1981, that TVJ, Tuviera, and businessman Romeo Jalosjos Sr. would establish TAPE.

“We started it,” Tito told One News’s Agenda. “I think history and the law will back us up on that.”

While it’s not yet clear whether they’ll run Eat Bulaga! itself on TV5, Tito has said they “will continue with Eat Bulaga!,” and “in whatever form” at that, especially in anticipation of its 50th anniversary in 2029.

But for TAPE president Romeo "Jon-Jon" Jalosjos Jr. and chief finance officer Seth Frederick "Bullet" Jalosjos, it’s the company that owns the brand for the most pragmatic and legal of reasons: The registered trademark owner before the Intellectual Property Office of the Philippines (IPOPHL) is TAPE itself.

“We have the papers to prove that we own Eat Bulaga! for 44 years,” Bullet said in a video interview with entertainment news website In a cheeky example, he cited rival show It’s Showtime of ABS-CBN to further his argument.

"Ilang taon na ang [It’s] Showtime? So, pwede na i-claim ni Vice Ganda na sa kanya iyon?"

What is a trademark, and how is it different from copyright?

In the world of intellectual property, there’s a fine line between trademark and copyright.

According to IPOPHL, a trademark is a word, a group of words, sign, symbol, logo, or a combination thereof that identifies and differentiates a business from others.

Copyright, meanwhile, is the legal protection extended to the owner of the rights in original literary, scientific, and artistic works.

It’s imperative from a business standpoint to trademark one’s brand identity in order to have exclusive rights and prevent others from using or exploiting it in any way, according to the IPOPHL.

“Aside from being a source-identifier, differentiator, quality indicator, and an advertising device, a protective mark may also bring another stream of income to the owner through licensing or franchising,” it said.

As for copyright, the agency noted that registration isn’t necessary though creators may do so “for the issuance of the appropriate certificate of copyright registration.”

From the get-go, the rule of thumb is that creators have the rights over their work. According to the Intellectual Property Code, there are two kinds of rights: economic rights, which deal with the work's distribution methods and how its owner can earn from it, and moral rights, which deal with one's ownership of the work and how their name is attributed to it.

The creators of works protected by copyright, the IPOPHL said, may authorize others to use their work on agreed terms, if not prohibit them from doing so.

Trademark protection is 10 years from the date of registration, and is renewable for 10 years at a time. Copyright protection, meanwhile, lasts for the lifetime of the creator plus 50 years.

Daniel John Fordan, intellectual property lawyer and managing partner at Tungol Tan Fordan Law Offices, told PhilSTAR L!fe that it’s possible for a particular show’s title to be trademarked by one entity even as its substance is copyrighted by another entity.

Fordan cited as example popular soda brand Cola-Cola, saying the company can sell its “Coca-Cola” mark to another one while keeping the recipe. Coca-Cola itself, then, may still use its very own recipe and sell the product under a different name.

“While a title is registered under someone’s name, it is possible for someone else to bring with them the segments of a show and create an entirely similar show under a different name,” he said, “if they are indeed the ones who conceptualized the same.”

Fordan, however, noted that based on Section 178.3 of the IP Code, it will still depend on the work arrangement of TVJ and TAPE.

Tito Sotto, Vic Sotto, and Joey De Leon, more popularly known as TVJ

The section states that a work’s copyright belongs to an employee if it isn’t part of their regular duties even if they used the time, facilities, and materials of the employer.

The employer, meanwhile, would have the copyright if the employee’s outcome is part of their regularly-assigned duties—unless there is an agreement stating otherwise.

But according to Dot Ramos Balasbas-Gancayco, Gancayco Balasbas Associates Law partner who specializes in intellectual property law, concepts and ideas are not copyrightable under the law.

Balasbas-Gancayco cited the Joaquin v. Drilon case in 1999, in which there had been a dispute between the creators of dating shows Rhoda and Me and It's a Date. The Supreme Court ruled that while copyright covers the audio-visual recordings of Rhoda and Me, it doesn't extend to the very idea of having a dating show.

First-to-file rule

Fordan also noted that trademark all boils down to registration—and who registers first.

The IPOPHL has the so-called first-to-file rule, in which whoever was first to file for registration of the mark will have the rights to the trademark.

In the case of TAPE, it’s the registered trademark owner of Eat Bulaga! and EB brand since 2013. It’s also the registered trademark owner of segments like Bawal Judgmental (2021), Pinoy Henyo (2012), Kalyserye (2016), Problem-Solving (2016), and Juan For All, All For Juan (2013, 2014).

TVJ alongside Tuviera, meanwhile, filed an application for the Eat Bulaga! just last February. De Leon also filed an application on behalf of TVJ the following March.

TAPE Inc.'s trademark expires on June 14, though Bullet told they already filed for renewal.

It also boils down to what the trademark one is applying for covers.

TVJ and Tuviera’s February filing involves merchandise content and entertainment services, while De Leon’s March filing only involves entertainment services.

TAPE, meanwhile, only has trademark for merchandise content, according to Tito. Records didn’t show if it also applied for a trademark for entertainment services.

Trademark filing steps

Trademark applications have three phases according to IPOPHL: pre-filing, filing, and post-filing.

Pre-filing includes securing a filing date first, with minimum requirements including:

  • An express or implicit indication that the registration of a mark is sought;
  • The identity of the applicant;
  • Contact details of the applicant or its agent/representative;
  • A reproduction of the mark; and
  • The list of the goods or service

“In other words, a dutifully accomplished application form and promptly paid fees is a must,” it said.

For the filing itself, an applicant must submit a filled-out trademark application form, a copy of the mark, and goods and services covered by the application online.

There’s an application fee of P1,212 for small entities with P100 million or less worth of assets and P2,617 for big entities with over P100 million worth of assets. There may be other charges depending on the progress of the application.

Post-filing includes receiving a statement of account from IPOPHL and the trademark being available on the database.

Once an entity obtains the trademark, it’s important to not only hold on to it for the prescribed 10-year period, as one must maintain it through actual use in commerce.

One must file a declaration of actual use or DAU within three years from the filing date of the trademark application and within one year from the fifth anniversary of the registration or its renewal.

One may also file for a declaration of non-use if they have valid reasons for not using the mark, including government restrictions, court injunctions, or cancellation cases.

Room for oppositions

But just because one is the first to apply doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s already absolute.

Balasbas-Gancayco told L!fe that the IPOPHL will conduct a thorough review first whether the trademark is registrable, that all the requirements have been submitted, and that everything is in order.

Moreover, she said there’s also room for opposition.

Section 151 of the IP Code states one may petition to cancel the registration of a trademark if they believe that they will be damaged by the registration.

TAPE's Eat Bulaga! trademark registration is set to expire on June 14, but it has filed for renewal.

TVJ on June 2 filed a petition to cancel TAPE's trademark for "Eat Bulaga" and "EB" on the grounds of “fraudulent” registration.

IPOPHL on June 6 already asked TAPE to answer to TVJ’s petition in 30 days.

If TAPE fails to file an answer, the agency in a statement said the case will be decided based "on the available merits and facts such as petitions, evidence submitted, records and applicable provisions of the law."

If TAPE files an answer, however, the parties will undergo mandatory mediation.

“If they reach an amicable settlement, the case will be deemed resolved based on a compromise agreement approved by the office’s [Bureau of Legal Affairs],” the IPOPHL said. “However, if there is no settlement, the cases will be assigned to an Adjudication Officer for proper resolution or decision.”

Reviews for trademark applications—and petitions—may take months.

“Dapat sila, nag-claim noon pa. Why now?" Bullet said of TVJ in the interview.

“They can always talk about legality,” Jon also said of the trio. “But we all know, pagdating sa legal [aspects], only the court can [decide].” (with reports from Brooke Villanueva)