Comic Con Verdict: Salt Lake Comic Con Loses The Battle, Now Seeks To Win The War

from the a-comic-can-of-worms dept

As you will all know, we’ve been covering the trademark case between San Diego Comic-Con and Salt Lake Comic Con pretty much since this whole dispute began some three years ago. From the outset, this whole thing seemed wholly unreasonable. Whatever trademarks SDCC managed to get past the USPTO, there are roughly a zillion comic cons across the country, few of which have any licensing arrangement with SDCC, meaning the plaintiff in this case hasn’t bothered to enforce its trademarks for some time. That generally leads to the mark being abandoned, or considered generic. Either should have kept SLCC in the clear. Add to all that the fact that this is arguably a trademark that should never have been granted on the grounds that it’s almost purely descriptive — a “comic con” is a comic convention — and many observers thought this was going to be an easy win for SLCC in court, including this writer.

Well, the jury has come back, and it managed to rule for San Diego Comic-Con instead.

In a case that could potentially complicate the lives of comic convention organizers the country over, a federal jury has ruled in San Diego Comic-Con’s favor in a suit brought against Salt Lake Comic Con for violating copyright law with their use of the term “comic con.” The verdict, which was arrived at on Friday afternoon, found SDCC’s trademark is valid, and that Salt Lake Comic Con used it without permission, according to a report by Fox13 in Salt Lake City.

That sound you hear in the distance is a hundred other comic convention organizers slapping their own foreheads. With this ruling, which SLCC may appeal, comic cons all over the place may feel more pressure to give in to any licensing demands from SDCC. Although, perhaps those other cons just need to run out the clock — more on that in a minute.

I said SLCC may appeal this ruling for two reasons. First, the damages the jury awarded are almost laughably small and nowhere near what SDCC was asking for.

San Diego Comic-Con initially sought up to $12 million in damages from Dan Farr and Bryan Brandenburg, Salt Lake Comic Con’s organizers, but was rewarded only $20,000. According to the ruling, the violation was not a “willful infringement” of the copyright.

“It felt like it was a draw,” Brandenburg told Fox13. He told the news organization that he was currently considering whether or not to appeal. Additionally, Salt Lake Comic Con has proceedings underway with the US trademark office to officially cancel San Diego Comic-Con’s trademark.

And that last bit is the other reason it may not appeal and was my reference above to other cons simply running out the clock. The real misstep here might be in San Diego Comic-Con opening up this can of worms by bullying other cons over its abandoned, generic, descriptive trademark, with the potential end result being one of its victims getting that trademark cancelled entirely. Were I any other comic con in some other city in America, I would be trying to help SLCC getting this mark cancelled in any way I could. It would be a poetic end, to be sure, no matter what one jury thought of that actual case of trademark infringement.

So, more to come, I am sure.

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Companies: salt lake comic con, san diego comic con

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Comments on “Comic Con Verdict: Salt Lake Comic Con Loses The Battle, Now Seeks To Win The War”

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34 Comments
Anonymous Coward says:

a federal jury has ruled in San Diego Comic-Con’s favor in a suit brought against Salt Lake Comic Con for violating copyright law with their use of the term “comic con.”

I’m confused, how exactly did they find this a violation of copyright law?

Is that just shoddy reporting by the news station mentioned in the quote?

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

“the violation was not a “willful infringement” of the copyright.”

Someone doesn’t know the different IP’s and how they work.

I look forward to the trademark being cancelled, one can only assume the other comic cons across the nation would be willing to throw a bit of cash into the pot. Chipping in to get it cancelled is a much better fiscal decision than letting themselves getting bled a bit more every year.

Heh how about calling it the Salt Lake Convention of Comics?

Scott S. (profile) says:

Re: other comic cons

I would NOT assume many of the numerous other comic cons will suddenly start helping Salt Lake Comic Con fight back. If these other comic cons (or their attorneys) were too apathetic or afraid before, they probably are even more so after a federal court has ruled against Salt Lake Comic Con.

It doesn’t even seem that any of the other comic cons are speaking out publicly about this issue. Are any of them even adding their two cents worth to Techdirt’s articles? Did any of them offer to testify at the trial?

RICH says:

Re: Re: Re:2 other comic cons

To answer your questions, yes, yes and yes. But I would never put myself in such a position.
Companies should do their homework first. Just by making some phone calls could save costly litigation.
If there might be a possible conflict it is much better for the parties to discuss it before one of them takes a questionable action.

MyNameHere (profile) says:

As I said in the other thread, I don’t expect an appeal by the loser because the settlement amount is much lower than any appeal would cost. They have also obtained pretty much all of the publicity that is possible out of the case, there isn’t much meat left on that bone.

They can keep pushing to invalidate the trademark, but at the same time, they can come up with a new moniker for their event and make another big publicity splash about being “not the comic con”. They can extract way more than $20,000 worth of marketing value, especially because sites like Techdirt and others will latch onto the story for another round at that point, bemoaning how trademark has hurt the little guy.

This isn’t the last you hear of this case, but I suspect it may be the last time you see it in court, unless SDCC decides to appeal.

John85851 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

First, why should SDCC call themselves a comic con when they’ve become a comic book and pop culture convention where Hollywood studios and game makers go to promote their latest productions. Though that doesn’t roll off the tongue either. 😉

Seriously, though, there’s DragonCon in Atlanta and MegaCon in Orlando (and probably many other), so these conventions don’t necessarily need to say “comic con” or “comic convention”.

Bryan Brandenburg (profile) says:

Salt Lake Comic Con is appealing

After our lawfirm Maschoff Brennan offered to handle the appeal on 100% contingency it was an offer we couldn’t refuse. We don’t pay a penny in legal fees unless they win so they must be confident of the outcome. When you see all the evidence that was not allowed including false declarations on the trademark, abandoned trademark for “comic con”, no licenses prior to 2014 when they sued us and even the principle register trademark from Chicago Comicon, you’ll understand why we are bullish about winning the con war.

We like a lot of the people at SDCC and they have a great event. We just think somebody has to stand up for the 140 comic cons that can’t afford to fight for what is everybodies.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Salt Lake Comic Con is appealing

“We like a lot of the people at SDCC and they have a great event. We just think somebody has to stand up for the 140 comic cons that can’t afford to fight for what is everybodies.”

Who is the asshole on their legal team that initiated this fight and decided short form of the term comic convention, i.e. “Comic Con”, belonged exclusively to them? Do they realize they’re making their convention look bad to the community?

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