Salt Lake formally rebukes San Diego Comic-Con
Dispute • SLC organizers believe they have right to use Comic Con name.
Published: August 7, 2014 03:01PM
Updated: September 3, 2014 12:59PM
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Trent Nelson | Tribune file photo Large crowds fill the Salt Palace Convention Center at Salt Lake Comic Con in September 2013. Comic Con 2, also called FanX, takes place through Saturday at the convention center.

Salt Lake Comic Con has no intention of bending to San Diego Comic-Con’s whim and change its name.

“Everybody knows that your attorney will tell you that you can win, so we’ve been assured that we can win,” said Salt Lake Comic Con co-founder and chief marketing officer Bryan Brandenburg. “But we’ve also done our own research … and we all agree that we have every right to use Comic Con.”

Co-founder Dan Farr said they spoke with San Diego’s team Tuesday night and Wednesday morning, and “they are open to further discussions to resolve any concerns they have,” he said. While he could not speculate as to whether San Diego will pursue a lawsuit, Brandenburg added after the news conference that San Diego is “probably as strong on maintaining their position as we are. They’ve dug in, but it’s cordial.”

The San Diego convention, the largest of its kind in the country, warned Salt Lake in a cease-and-desist letter to change its name or face legal repercussions, arguing that the similar name can confuse people into thinking the two are affiliated. Salt Lake received the letter July 25 and had until Wednesday to formally respond.

If San Diego were to file a lawsuit, Brandenburg said, his convention is prepared to defend itself. However, the chief marketing officer pointed out only about 1.3 percent of trademark cases go to court.

If the matter did go before a judge, Farr said, this could be “the case that settles it for them across the board.”

Salt Lake’s decision comes as no surprise. Farr and Brandenburg have made it clear since the letter arrived that they were not backing down, arguing that doing so would jeopardize the dozens of other comic conventions around the country that also use “comic con” in their names.

“We did feel that we were singled out,” Brandenburg added, “and we wanted to give a heads up to other comic cons that we have relationships with around the country, because if they’re going to take action with us, then they’re going to take action with others.”

Other convention organizers, celebrities and online commentators have sided with Salt Lake in this matter, the co-founders said. As far as Brandenburg sees it, they have won in the court of public opinion.

At this point, either convention could file a lawsuit for a judge to decide the matter. If San Diego wins such a case, it has a precedent to do this to others, Brandenburg said.

For instance, the New York Comic Con is the second-largest in the country and clearly uses the name, as do 24 other conventions nationwide that are organized through Wizard World. Salt Lake has been in touch with other conventions organizers, most of whom have rolled their eyes at San Diego’s action, Farr said. He declined to name which conventions take their side, not wanting to make them a target.

The whole issue should be settled, Farr figures, if the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office grants them their application to trademark “Salt Lake Comic Con,” which they filed several days after receiving the cease-and-desist letter. Such applications take a long time — at best, six months — but “hopefully the government will settle that so we don’t have to go to court over it,” he said.

Technically, San Diego only has the hyphenated version of “Comic-Con” trademarked. But its legal team argues in the cease-and-desist letter that the similarity of “Comic Con” in another event’s name, without the hyphen, has confused people into thinking the event is somehow associated with San Diego’s convention.

“In fact, we are aware of multiple instances where persons have incorrectly believed that the Salt Lake Comic Con convention was a [San Diego Comic-Con] event,” the letter from San Diego Comic-Con reads. The letter adds that the San Diego group would be fine with Salt Lake Comic Con expanding the last word to Convention, or reusing the title for its spring event, FanXperience, instead.

The relationship between Salt Lake and San Diego has been eroding for some time.

When Salt Lake announced FanXperience, the organizers received a call from San Diego’s team members, who were upset that it was scheduled for the same April weekend as WonderCon (another event they put on in Southern California). Brandenburg, defending the choice, has pointed out that the weekend was the only one Utah organizers could book at the Salt Palace Convention Center, and WonderCon did not have any publicized dates yet.

And, most recently, the San Diego organizers were less than thrilled that their Salt Lake counterparts wanted celebrity guests to take photos with an Audi, decorated with Salt Lake promotional material, near the San Diego Comic-Con when the event was in full swing last month. When the cease-and-desist letter arrived that weekend, Brandenburg said, there was no saving the relationship — and despite knowing San Diego’s feelings about the car, organizers went ahead with the plan anyway.

The convention is scheduled for Sept. 4-6 at the Salt Palace Convention Center. Part of the point of Wednesday’s news conference was to assure fans that the show will go on.

“Even if they filed something tomorrow, it would not affect our September show,” said Brandenburg. To their knowledge, no celebrities or vendors have dropped out of the event because of the dispute.

mmcfall@sltrib.com

Twitter: @mikeypanda