from the how-heroic dept
When I wrote about the monumentally silly trademark dispute between the San Diego Comic-Con and the Salt Lake City Comic Con, I didn’t appreciate the simple nature of that trademark dispute. Sure, the idea that the phrase comic-con, or comic con, could be trademarked seemed wrong. The phrase is arguably both generic and descriptive, after all. But at least the dispute was simple.
A trademark battle currently underway in Texas is less so, unfortunately. This dispute involves two relatively new comic conventions, Houston’s nickname of “Space City”, and the city’s convention bureau buying into the convention industry itself.
Houston’s convention bureau is suing the operators of a popular local convention over the use of “Space City” in its name, claiming it infringes on a 12-year-old trademark. The convention in question, Space City Comic Con, also happens to compete with a similar event that is half-owned by the Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau itself. The bureau acquired a 50 percent stake in the more established Comicpalooza last September, spokesman A.J. Mistretta said.
Both events bring in television and film stars for appearances that attract thousands of autograph buyers. Fans come dressed as their favorite characters from science fiction, anime and super-hero fantasies to browse exhibits, purchase items from vendors and play video and table-top games. The fests charge comparable admission fees.
Now, there’s several things we can dig into here, but let’s focus instead on the timeline of events to get a good understanding of why this dispute is dumb and contrary to the purpose of trademark law. This isn’t laid out well in the link for some reason, but I’ll make it easy for you.
- 2004: the Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau is granted a trademark for “Space City” for use in promoting tourism, business and conventions in the Houston area.
- 2008: Comicpalooza began as a small comics convention in Houston and has grown larger since.
- 2012: Space City Comic Con began as a small comics convention in Houston and has grown larger since.
- 2015: the Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau acquires a 50% stake in Comicpalooza.
- 2016: the Convention and Visitors Bureau sues Space City Comic Con for using “space city” for which it has the 12 year old trademark.
Any reading of that timeline leads to the obvious conclusion: the Bureau didn’t give a damn about a comic convention’s use of “space city” until it was heavily invested in a competing convention. That the name went unchallenged for several years is a wonderful indication that, assuming the Bureau wants to claim infringement, it wasn’t bothering to police its trademarks properly. The article quotes a rep for the Bureau claiming it was unaware of the comics convention, which seems strange since knowing and promoting such conventions is the entire point of the Bureau to begin with.
And even setting aside the problematic timeline and all of its implied opportunism, Space City Comic Con can further defend itself by pointing out that the term “space city” at this point has become a generic nickname for Houston, harkening back to the glory days of America’s space program.
One possible line of defense for Space City Comic Con is to prove that “Space City” is a generic term that has become synonymous with Houston, said Bruce Patterson, intellectual property lawyer with Patterson and Sheridan in Houston. The bureau also has to prove “Space City” is famous, said Amanda Greenspon, trademark lawyer with Munck Wilson Mandala in Dallas.
“It’s not just enough to be famous in Texas. You have to be famous around the country, she said. “I don’t know if ‘Space City’ is famous in Arkansas, North Dakota or New York.”
All around, it’s just a slimy look for Houston’s Convention and Visitors Bureau.