Comic Con Defendant Says He Knew It Was Trademarked

SAN DIEGO (CN) – During a tense exchange in the Comic Con trademark trial Wednesday, the cofounder of Salt Lake Comic Con testified that he knew San Diego Comic-Con had a trademark, but used it anyway, since other events were doing so.

Bryan Brandenburg, the chief marketing officer and cofounder of Salt Lake Comic Con, took the stand Wednesday in the trademark case brought by San Diego Comic-Con’s parent company San Diego Comic Convention.

Brandenburg testified that he’d been creating video games and producing animated films before being approached by Salt Lake Comic Con cofounder Dan Farr about bringing a Comic Con to Salt Lake City.

Brandenburg said he attended multiple Comic Cons – including San Diego’s event – to see how different cities localized their events and to petition vendors and celebrities to come to the Utah event.

Brandenburg said he conducted Google searches of more than 50 websites that showed similar events used “Comic Con” in their title.

“Part of the challenge of launching brand new company is telling people what you do,” Brandenburg said.

Salt Lake Comic Con attorney Michael Katz’s questioning of Brandenburg was peppered with objections by San Diego Comic-Con attorney Callie Bjurstrom, until U.S. District Judge Anthony Battaglia told Katz he had limited scope to show the titles of multiple news articles on Comic Con events throughout the country.

On the use of Comic Con in the media, Brandenburg said it was “used in a variety of ways to describe a type of event in different cities. It led me to believe we could call our company Salt Lake Comic Con.”

Brandenburg said the Utah event was “very influenced” by Comic Coms held in Denver and Phoenix, which he said were similar in size to Salt Lake Comic Con compared to San Diego’s bigger event.

Brandenburg said he viewed San Diego Comic-Con’s website and “About” page, which detailed the history of the multiple names the SoCal event had before settling on Comic-Con International San Diego.

Though Brandenburg was aware of San Diego Comic Convention’s trademark, he said that “based on my understanding of naming, I felt comfortable calling my event Salt Lake Comic Con.”

He said he felt “even more comfortable” with the decision to use Comic Con in the name based on the term’s use in the media to describe events across the country. Brandenburg said he believed only the hyphen in the San Diego event’s name was off-limits because it was “unique to San Diego.”

“Most notable comic conventions are called Comic Con and we wanted to be notable,” Brandenburg said. “My observation then was there is a national Comic Con circuit and we wanted to be a part of it.”

The Utah event is “unique” in some ways, Brandenburg said, including its use of active duty Air Force personnel as security guards and a theme of celebrating everyday heroes, including police officers, nurses and doctors, year-round rather than just during the September event.

“We wanted to engage the community 365 days a year, especially through social media,” Brandenburg said. “There is a lot of pride and local excitement for what we do. We are very integrated in the local community.

During cross-examination, Bjurstrom said that Brandenburg had not produced any records or documents to verify all the internet research he claims he conducted before settling on the name.

“Did you ever contact San Diego Comic-Con and ask if it were OK to use Comic Con without a hyphen?” Bjurstrom asked.

Brandenburg said he did not, nor did he consult an attorney before selecting the name.

He said he had been contacted a few times on social media by people confusing his event with the one in San Diego, and directed an inquirer via email to get in touch with the San Diego event since “we are not affiliated with them in any way.”

Bjurstrom pressed Brandenburg on some other internal emails where he’d referred to “hijacking the Comic Con brand.” He said he believed it was OK to use Comic Con in their name since others were also using it.

Closing arguments were scheduled for Thursday morning.

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