It’s the trademark story that simply won’t go away and in which the legal system appears to get everything wrong. The saga of the San Diego Comic-Con’s legal adventures against what was formerly the Salt Lake Comic Con (now rebranded as FanX Salt Lake Comic Convention) has been brutally frustrating. The whole thing started when the SDCC decided somewhat out of the blue to begin enforcing a trademark it had been granted for “Comic-Con” against the Utah production. The trademark original sin of this story began all the way back with the USPTO, which absurdly granted the SDCC its trademark for a purely descriptive term, one which is only unrecognizable as such due to the shortening of the second word from “convention” to “con.” Despite that, the trademark suit brought against the Salt Lake Comic Con somehow ended in a win by jury for the SDCC, which was awarded only $20k. In the trial, SLCC had pointed out several times that the term “comic-con” was both descriptive in nature and clearly had been abandoned by SDCC, evidenced by the long list of other comic conventions going by the term carried out throughout the country.
The money is one thing, but the injunction is what will really have an impact for other conventions throughout the country. Suddenly, SDCC has a legal win that includes forcing another comic convention in another state to not be able to accurately call itself anything other than a “comic convention” specifically, with all other variations on that term being verboten. That sound you hear right now is hundreds of organizers of comics festivals falling out of their chairs.
It will be interesting to see how Judge Battaglia rules on the assertion that SLCC’s defense of itself warrants its paying SDCC’s attorney’s fees. What exactly was SLCC supposed to do, not try to defend itself in the best way possible? One also wonders if SDCC would be petitioning for attorney’s fees had the jury found that SLCC’s infringement was not willful, resulting in the paltry $20k award. Perhaps, perhaps not. What this sure looks like is the SDCC realizing that this “win” came at the cost of a hilariously large amount of money and it is attempting to mitigate that loss.SDCC also petitioned the court to bar SLCC from using its trademarks. That sort of thing would be par for the course except for two things. First, again, this trademark is ridiculous. It’s purely descriptive. Second, hammering home that fact, SDCC doesn’t want SLCC to even be able to properly describe the type of event it is.
A few months ago, we alerted our readers that a trademark dispute between the San Diego Comic-Con and a company producing a Salt Lake City Comic Con, originally filed in 2014, was still going on. In fact, the district court hearing the case just recently ruled on several motions from both parties, including motions for judicial notice (essentially having the court affirm basic facts about the case), motions to exclude expert testimony, and motions for summary judgement. On the face of it, the news is mostly bad for the Salt Lake City convention, with nearly every ruling coming down against it. However, digging into the ruling itself, there is a light at the end of the tunnel.
Last month, in covering some news about the case still going on, we added a long (longer than the post itself…) editor’s note about the truly weird situation in which SDCC had sent us a ridiculous subpoena demanding (among other things) any internal documents ever mentioning SDCC and implying that we had some sort of business relationship with the organizers of the SLC event (to be clear, we have zero relationship with anyone involved in either event — we just found a story written about the case and used that as the basis for our posts on the topic). We pushed back on SDCC and noted that it really appeared that their fishing expedition was an attempt to intimidate the press from reporting on this case. It was… really strange.And now, with SDCC happening right now, the Hollywood Reporter has the latest on the case, in which SDCC has filed for one of the strangest legal gag orders I’ve seen in a while. I mean, I’ve seen these kinds of gag order requests filed by pro se plaintiffs, but rarely by competent lawyers working at giant famous law firms.