05/12/2010 05:22 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Subway Trying To Trademark 'Footlong,' Sending Cease-And-Desist Letters

Subway is making a play to trademark the term "footlong," prompting some embarrassment and a swift retraction after the chain threatened a mom-and-pop restaurant that's been the "Home of the Footlong" for decades.

Subway attorney Valerie Pochron sent a cease-and-desist letter to the Coney Island Drive Inn, a local Florida institution whose "footlong" hot dog dates to 1963. After Coney Island proprietor Blair Hensley took his case to the St. Petersburg Times, Subway quickly clarified that the letter was sent in error -- the company only intended to threaten restaurants selling "footlong" sub sandwiches. Hot dogs are fine.

Subway spokesman Kevin Kane declined to tell NPR how many cease-and-desist letters the company has sent out while in pursuit of the mark.

The Subway chain has applied to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office for an exclusive claim to the footlong sandwich for 12 years, likely to be renewed in perpetuity if approved. The applications were filed by the chain's parent company, Doctor's Associates, Inc.

Hensley's initial response: "Are you kidding me?"