Salt Lake Comic Con infringed on San Diego Comic-Con’s name, should pay $20K, jury says

(Steve Griffin | The Salt Lake Tribune) Dressed in their costumes people are photographed at the 2017 Salt Lake Comic Con at the Salt Palace Convention Center Friday September 22, 2017.

A federal jury on Thursday awarded $20,000 in damages to San Diego Comic Convention in its trademark infringement dispute with Salt Lake Comic Con over their names.

The jury found that the San Diego group’s trademark is valid and that Salt Lake Comic Con used it without permission, according to San Diego Comic Convention.

Salt Lake Comic Con co-founder and Chief Marketing Officer Bryan Brandenburg confirmed that his group plans to appeal. In the meantime, he doesn’t have plans to change his September pop-culture convention.

“It wasn’t as good as we wanted, but we still feel really good about it,” Brandenburg said.

He’s optimistic because San Diego Comic Convention had initially asked for $12 million — including $9.6 million for a “corrective advertising” campaign, and instead was awarded $20,000, as the jury didn’t find the infringement to be willful.

”And our appeal is going to be really strong,” he said.

The Salt Lake City group has a petition to cancel San Diego Comic Convention’s “comic-con” mark in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, Brandenburg said.

That challenge was not allowed to be brought up at trial, according to an emailed statement from Salt Lake Comic Con.

The decision came on the eighth day of trial in U.S. District Court in San Diego.

Six jurors returned the verdict Friday. A wildfire blocked a seventh juror from getting to the courthouse Friday morning, Brandenburg said.

The jury also upheld two other trademarks as valid: the “eye logo” — a grayscale cartoon drawing of an eye — and Comic-Con International.

Salt Lake Comic Con hadn’t used either mark, but “the jury concluded that if we infringe one, we infringe all,” Brandenburg said.

“We never used Comic-Con International, we never used the eye logo; all we did was use comic con in our name,” he said. “The same as 140 other events around the country.”

Callie Bjurstrom, one of the group’s attorneys, and David Glanzer, the group’s chief communications and strategy officer, declined to comment on whether they would file lawsuits against the other organizations that call their events comic cons.

“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,” Bjurstrom wrote in an statement emailed to The Salt Lake Tribune.

The attorneys declined to comment further.

“The fact of the matter is, they view everybody in the country — over 140 events — as infringing their trademark,” Brandenburg said. “We feel like we’re in good company.”

The two companies organize conventions and events that celebrate comics and comic books, science fiction and fantasy films and TV shows, graphic arts, and other aspects of popular culture.

“I think there’s potential that San Diego Comic-Con and Salt Lake Comic Con could be friends one of these days,” Brandenburg said. “I think after they saw the evidence of who we are as an event, they realized that we are pretty consistent with their mission of celebrating popular art.”

San Diego Comic Convention filed suit Aug. 7, 2014, saying the use of “comic con” in the Salt Lake City company’s name infringes on its event’s trademark, “Comic-con,” and confuses the public into thinking the two conventions are linked. The suit sought monetary damages and an injunction barring the Salt Lake City organizers from using the term “comic con” for any event, logo, trademark or website.

Salt Lake Comic Con said “comic con” is a generic term that has been used by hundreds of conventions the world over for the past 50 years, and it disputed the assertion that there was confusion.

San Diego Comic Convention said in a court filing in June that the Salt Lake City company has “no evidence regarding the primary significance of SDCC’s trademarks in the mind of the relevant public and thus, as a matter of law, cannot establish that the marks are generic.”

Technically, San Diego has the hyphenated “Comic-Con” trademarked, not “Comic Con.” However, its legal team has argued that the similarity of “Comic Con” in the Salt Lake City company’s name, without the hyphen, has confused people into thinking the event is associated with San Diego’s convention.

“Please be respectful” to San Diego Comic-Con, Salt Lake Comic Con’s statement concluded. “Maybe we can all live long and prosper.”

Return to Story