Opening Statements In The Trademark Battle Of The Comic Cons, While Other Regional Cons Go Full Judas

from the 30-pieces-of-silver dept

Our regular readers will know that we’ve been covering the years-long trademark lawsuit between the famous San Diego Comic-Con and the Salt Lake ComicCon since the very beginning. The whole thing has been something of a saga, with the SDCC issuing various threats and filing a lawsuit, while the SLCC has managed to fumble its way through court, getting slapped around for attempting various counter-logical defenses and even getting a gag order on it temporarily, unconstitutionally barring it from talking about the case publicly.

Well, the court heard opening statements in the case this past week, with the SDCC trotting out the same studies it had presented during the pre-trial motions.

Callie Bjurstrom, attorney for San Diego Comic-Con told jurors that Salt Lake Comic Con hijacked the Comic-Con trademark. That it “remained a small, intimate comic convention for decades” and that it wasn’t until the early 2000s that “the secret was out: Comics were cool and Comic-Con was the place to be to catch what was hot and what was next”. And as hundreds of similar conventions sprang up in cities across the country, Salt Lake Comic Con tried to “hijack” the trademark, to “steal the Comic-Con brand” saying “You don’t need to use ‘Comic-Con’ in your name to identify your comic and popular-arts convention… Convention is a generic term. Comic-Con is a brand” and that Salt Lake Comic Con is duping consumers into believing their events are associated, especially when they parked an Audi convertible near the San Diego Convention Center during the 2014 show, wrapped with promotions for the Salt Lake event.

SDCC commissioned a study that showed 82 percent of consumers recognize Comic-Con as a brand – a higher brand recognition rate than Jello and that “You don’t take or steal something that’s not valuable.”

Of course, the problem with this study is that no matter what the public in the SDCC’s sample indicated, the simple fact is that comic conventions throughout the country have been using the term “comic con” with wild abandon. As they did so, it seems that the SDCC was in some sort of trademark hibernation for years, with no action against all of these national comic cons that I can find. SLCC made the same point in its opening argument, their defense seemingly settling on the notion that the term “comic con” had become generic.

Attorneys for the Salt Lake Comic Con and Dan Farr Productions said the phrase has become generic, part of the public commons, and therefore unprotectable. Michael Katz with Maschoff Brennan said that “Comic Con” is a generic term used to refer to a type of convention and that the show “looked to the industry” in naming their convention in 2013. “They used the same formula: Salt Lake to refer to where they were, and Comic Con to refer to what they were”. That Comic Con was a “national brand” and there could be no confusion between the one in San Diego and the one in Utah, which he called a “flyover state”, and that theirs was a “homegrown” event where four out of five attendees came from Utah, and it was so specific to the state that it didn’t run on Sundays because of Utah’s large religious population. And that “I don’t think we’re here because of large numbers of people confusing San Diego Comic-Con with Salt Lake Comic Con. … They have not been harmed by little Salt Lake. They have not lost a single customer to us. We are small potatoes”.

It seems that the SDCC fully anticipated this defense and decided to attempt to undermine it by finding a comic con out there, any comic con, to enter into a laughably cheap licensing agreement. That SDCC is doing this only at the same time it is bringing this suit to trial makes its motive plain and naked. It’s a shameless attempt to give its long-abandoned trademark the imprimatur of now having an actual licensee. As disappointing as the SDCC’s actions are, those of the sellout cons are all the more so. Just read the press release from Rose City Comic Con in Portland about how it licensed the “comic con” mark and you’ll get an idea of just how likely it is that the SDCC basically scripted this thing for them.

“Rose City Comic Con, Portland, Oregon’s largest comics and pop-culture convention, is proud to announce its association with San Diego Comic Convention for its three-day event taking place September 7-9, 2018 at the Oregon Convention Center. Rose City Comic Con received the license at no additional cost to the show, and acknowledges the trademark owned by San Diego Comic Convention and is excited to affiliate itself with the prestigious event.”

“Comic-Con, the San Diego convention, is without question the biggest and most important event in the comics and popular arts industry every year. To have the respected event recognize the hard work of Rose City Comic Con by providing a license agreement is really remarkable for the city of Portland and the incredible community of creators we’re lucky to have here,” said Rose City Comic Con founder Ron Brister.

So moist does Rose City seem to be over its free license that it must have failed to understand the motive for this free gift by the SDCC and the damage it might do to all of the other comic cons out there that are now or might in the future be under threat by SDCC. Now, I don’t believe that SDCC managing to squeeze a few licensees from this national barrel of turnips suddenly means that it didn’t long ago abandon the “comic con” mark, but it seems obvious that these sorts of free licenses aren’t for everyone. I expect the SLCC, for instance, would have jumped at a free license early on in this process. Perhaps it would instead have stood its ground on principle, but given the enormous cost in time and money, not to mention that this thing has dragged out now for several years, I doubt it.

So nice job, Rose City. While one con fights not just for its life, but for the common sense notion that “comic con” should no longer be considered a legit trademark, you went full Judas. Hope those 30 pieces of silver are worth it.

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Companies: salt lake comic con, san diego comic con

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Comments on “Opening Statements In The Trademark Battle Of The Comic Cons, While Other Regional Cons Go Full Judas”

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Anonymous Coward says:

So Rose City asked nice and aren't in court... THE EVIL FOOLS!

Listen. If wish to be associated with prior fame, it’s not only polite but wise to ASK FIRST and give DUE PROPS. — And why not? What the hell do you have against "ownership" here? Just FLATTER them into giving you free publicity and other favors!

I bet defendant wishes had tried that. Or will.

But Techdirt has the notion in every area that you can just take that which others have earned (the cachet here, at least by longevity).

I think "moist" is a sexist term. Nice fillip.

Aerie (profile) says:

Seriously? Rose City didn’t affiliate with the word “Comic Con”, it affiliated with the entity of San Diego Comic Con. Someone forgot to tell SDCC that you cannot trademark a generic term. I don’t see any jury finding for SDCC.

I’ve been collecting comic books ever since the 1970’s and everyone I know has referred to comic conventions as “comic cons”. Just what the fuck does SDCC think “comic con” stands for? It stands for “comic convention”. It’s the same reason why you can’t trademark “popcorn” and sue another company for having “popcorn” in the name of its business.

SDCC stands a good chance of not just losing their lawsuit but also losing their trademark on “comic con”.

This would be a different story if the SDCC had simply called their event “Comic Con” and trademarked that, but they didn’t, because they would never have been allowed to. Their event is called “San Diego Comic Con” NOT “Comic Con”. lols

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

To reinforce this point:

I’m completely outside this entire segment of culture. I have zero interest in comics and never have. I have zero interest in the movies made from them. I have zero interest in cons of any type. I’m about as far removed from this sphere as I can be.

And even I know that “comic con” is, quite clearly, a generic term.

Aerie (profile) says:

What makes this lawsuit ridiculous is that “comic con” is also used for conventions in Europe, Japan, Middle East, Brazil … comic conventions used the generic term in many countries to describe their conventions.

I’m sure that SDCC trademarked “San Diego Comic Con”. They did not trademark “Comic Con”. When it comes down to it, not only is “Comic Con” a generic term but if they’re sticking with their trademark, then it can be argued for “genericide”.

I simply don’t see the SDCC succeeding in this frivolous lawsuit. Plus, the fact that the SDCC is trying to bolster its claim by licensing out “Comic Con” to other conventions is only going to be seen by the jury for what it is, a veiled attempt to protect a trademark that is war too common with comic conventions. IN effect, the SDCC says it has a trademark on the descriptor “comic conventions”, which it is not allowed to have.

K`Tetch (profile) says:

Don’t see the big deal.
go to neither, they’re crap. one’s a fancy dealers room, and the other is basically a hollywood-promoting orgy of luvvies and profit-orgies.

Much rather go to Dragoncon, 50+ tracks of programing, its own TV channel, massive parade, it even has a track of programing about techdirt-y stuff, with groups like the EFF attending. Heck, this past year I spoke about Techdirt’s 1st amendment fight with Shiva, with EFF General counsel Kurt Opsahl and another lawyer. And fake news in the modern social media era. And in between I directed a segment for the TV channel about a real steel medieval weapons fighting tournament that was also a qualifier for the national team.

Aerie (profile) says:

When it comes down to it, SDCC should have just left this well enough alone. Because I just don’t see the SDCC coming out of this unscathed. If they lose, they could end up on the hook to paying the attorney’s fees of the SLCC.

BTW, I remember how this all started. The SDCC demanded that the SLCC turn over the new car that had the Salt Lakes Comic Con advertisement on the side of the car. When they started with their C&D’s, that’s when this whole mess spiraled out of control.

I just think that the SDCC is going to lose and it’s going to lose in a big way.

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