Mumbo Sauces and Trademark Battle

Mumbo sauce is a tangy flavour sauce served at local restaurants across Washington, D.C. Its unique and versatile flavour makes it a perfect blend for anything from fried rice to ribs to chicken wings. However, what exactly are the ingredients of the sauce or who came up with the recipe has been a mystery, leading the District’s native population to assume that Mumbo sauce is a DC subculture. Yet in spite of the Washington folk tale and nostalgia that Mumbo evokes, the legal rights to “Mumbo Sauce” may not belong to the nation’s capital, but instead to Chicago.

Arsha Jones, a DC resident was so much in love with Mumbo sauce that she made it her job, and started selling her homemade recipe under the brand “Capitol City Mumbo Sauce.” When Jones found that Select Brands had been selling Mumbo sauce under the same name since the 1950s, she filed a petition in the USPTO to cancel the company’s trademark registration, but the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board dismissed the case, finding that Capital City was not able to manifest that the trademark had become generic.

History backs up the decision by the court. The Mumbo sauce can be traced back to 1957, when Argia B. Collins first introduced it at his barbeque chain shop Chicago’s South Side. Later following the Second World War when Collins migrated to the north, this special sauce helped his ribs become famous across the city. Finally Mumbo made its way to Washington where it was embraced and adopted by the city’s African American residents. By that time Collins successors had taken over the sauce operation, and sold it under the banner “Select Brands” and later in 1999 registered the trademark MUMBO with the U.S.P.T.O.

Jones is unruffled by the court’s decision, and is planning to seek pro bono to file an appeal. According to him, “This was never about me and my money and my pockets. It was about doing what was best for the community of D.C.”

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