Two rival pop-culture conventions in California and Utah will remain locked in a court battle over “comic con” naming rights after a judge’s split decision kept either side from declaring victory.
The ruling handed down Tuesday means the case could go before a jury in November.
The case started when the well-known San Diego Comic-Con sued upstart rivals in Salt Lake City for trademark violation, arguing people could confuse the two events both known for guests elaborately costumed as superheros, movie villains and more.
More than 100 events from Arizona to New York use some version of “comic con,” giving weight to Utah’s argument that it’s a generic term, according to the ruling from U.S. District Judge Anthony Battaglia. That could mean comic con is a case of genericide, a term for a once-trademarked name that’s become interchangeable with a product, like Aspirin or escalator.
But the Southern California district judge also pointed to a survey filed by San Diego organizers that found more than 80 percent of people think “comic con” is a brand name.
Salt Lake Comic Con organizers declined comment Wednesday on the ruling that also excluded some of their evidence. San Diego Comic-Con did not immediately return a message seeking comment.
San Diego is considered the flagship of the popular convention circuit, and organizers argue they have legal ownership of the term “comic con” in all its forms.
Salt Lake organizers, meanwhile, contend the lawsuit filed three years ago is a way to take aim at an upstart with growing attendance.
Since its start in 1970, San Diego has grown into the Holy Grail of pop culture conventions with attendance of more than 135,000, drawing self-described geeks as well as Hollywood studios and actors looking to create buzz for upcoming projects.
Salt Lake Comic Con, meanwhile, debuted in September 2013 and quickly grew to attract more than 120,000 people as well as celebrity appearance from the likes of John Cusack and Captain America actor Chris Evans.