In a verdict that was rendered on Friday afternoon, a federal jury has ruled in favor of the San Diego Comic-Con (SDCC), in a lawsuit filed against the Salt Lake Comic Con (SLCC) and its organizers, Dan Farr and Bryan Brandenburg, concerning SDCC’s trademark of the words “comic con,” which should be of great concern to the several other comic-related conventions that have also used the words “comic con” in their events, which include Alamo City Comic Con, Baltimore Comic Con, Boston Comic Con, Denver Comic Con, and New York Comic Con.
SDCC brought their suit initially in 2014, accusing the SLCC event of infringing on their trademark in the saying “comic con.” In the lawsuit, SDCC claimed that Salt Lake Comic Con used the term “comic con” without their permission, seeking approximately $12 million in damages from SLCC’s organizers. SLCC’s organizers, whose argument regarding the case was as follows:
“Our position is that the phrases “comic con,” “comicon” and even “comic-con” are generic and are abbreviations for the term “comic convention.” This has been a common expression since 1964, six years before San Diego Comic-Con even existed. When used with another set of words such as “Salt Lake,” “Big Apple,” Chicago” or “New York,” they become a name that has protection and exclusivity.”
While SDCC did in fact win their case, the jury found that SLCC did not willfully infringe upon their trademark, and in the settlement of the case, ordered SLCC to pay only $20,000, which is a big indicator that the jury did not view this matter as causing significant or substantial harm to SDCC, especially not one worth $12 million in damages. SDCC released a statement following the case that said:
“San Diego Comic Convention has used the Comic-Con trademarks in connection with our comics and popular arts conventions for almost 50 years. We have invested substantial time, talent and resources in our brand resulting in world-wide recognition of the Comic-Con convention held annually in San Diego. The jury today upheld San Diego Comic Convention’s trademarks as valid. The jury also found that Dan Farr Productions, Daniel Farr and Bryan Brandenburg each infringed San Diego Comic Convention’s marks. San Diego Comic Convention respects the decision of the jury. From the beginning all that we asked of the defendants was to stop using our Comic-Con trademarks. Today we obtained a verdict that will allow us to achieve this. For that we are grateful.”
Although it is highly expected that SLCC will appeal this decision to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in California, Brandenburg has told Fox 13 that he was currently considering whether or not to appeal the court’s decision. SLCC has already commenced proceedings with the US Patent & Trademark Office in order to officially cancel SDCC’s trademark for “comic con.” SLCC organizers have previously told KSTU Fox 13 news station, that this legal battle will not affect their ability to put on their next comic convention, which draws more than 100,000 guests.
Regardless of which, the jury’s decision means that SDCC’s trademark in the name “comic con” has been upheld, which means that there are quite a few questions that have arisen, and possibly a lot of potential name changes that a lot of comic conventions across the country will have to think about going forward, as a result of the outcome of this case.