by Gene Turnbow
A huge chunk of fandom has been watching the legal dispute between San Diego Comic-Con International and Salt Lake Comic Con LLC with interest, especially the organizers of other comic cons. At stake is the right of SLCC to use the words “comic con” to describe their comics convention, in the same manner as other comic cons have done since the mid 1970’s. As of July 14, 2015, the United States Patent and Trademark Office granted Dan Farr and company the trademark for the name “Salt Lake Comic Con”. The trademark (Reg. No. 4,774,453 Serial # 86-353,123) is for: “Education and entertainment services, namely, organizing, producing, and conducting conventions in the fields of gaming, comics, television, movies, technology, science fiction, fantasy, and popular culture for entertainment purposes.”
The whole thing started when Salt Lake Comic Con drove their SLCC wrapped Audi sports car to San Diego to advertise the Salt Lake convention on the streets of San Diego. Apparently SDCC Intl. feels they own not only exclusive rights to the words “comic con”, but the right to advertise other conventions in the streets while their own convention is running. They filed their trademark suit against SLCC last August in 2014. Negotiations for an out of court settlement broke down earlier this month, and while no court date has yet been set, SDCC’s chances of prevailing are looking more grim almost by the week.
To start with, the words “comic con” are a generic phrase meaning any comic book themed convention, and SDCC will have to explain to the court why “comic con” is a defensible trademark even though they themselves abandoned efforts to procure a trademark for that phrase in 1999. SLCC’s trademark, in turn, falls under 15 U.S. Code § 1115, which provides a safe harbor against infringement where “…a term or device which is descriptive of and used fairly and in good faith only to describe the goods or services of such party, or their geographic region.” This newest ruling by the USPTO underscores SLCC’s right to use the words “comic con” in their name, greatly increasing the challenge of a win for SDCC.
While SLCC is simply defending itself from what looks to this layman like a sour grapes attack based on the thinnest of legal foundations, at stake are the rights of countless other comic conventions around the United States to trademark their own names. This newest ruling from the United States Trademark and Patent Office suggests that SLCC has followed the trademark rules to the letter, vastly weakening San Diego Comic-Con’s case. Convention runners all over the country have probably just let out a huge sigh of relief, but of course the case hasn’t been dismissed or dropped yet.
Salt Lake Comic Con 2015 is scheduled for September 24-26, 2015 at the Salt Palace Convention Center downtown Salt Lake City. It is now the third largest comic con in the country, behind those in San Diego and New York. Their first event was the largest first year comic con in North American history. This year Chris Evans, star of the Captain America and The Avengers movie series will be at the show on Saturday, September 26, 2015. For more information on Salt Lake Comic Con, visit their website.
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