SAN DIEGO (CN) – A six-person jury late Friday found San Diego Comic-Con’s trademark is valid and enforceable, and awarded the decades-old comic convention $20,000 in damages caused by another city convention’s use of the mark.
The much-anticipated verdict against Salt Lake (Utah) Comic Con creates legal precedent for San Diego Comic-Con to pursue trademark infringement claims against the more than 140 other “comic cons” around the country, which are using the trademark without the San Diego company’s permission.
During closing arguments Thursday, San Diego Comic-Con’s attorney Callie Bjurstrom of Pillsbury indicated her client may do just that. She said San Diego Comic-Con has the “right to decide who to pursue and when” but that it was pursuing “the worst offenders first.”
Jurors deliberated for a day and a half before coming back with a verdict in favor of San Diego Comic-Con, finding the owners and operators of Salt Lake Comic Con – Dan Farr Productions and its co-founders Dan Farr and Bryan Bradenburg – used the trademark in a way that was likely to confuse consumers.
During his testimony earlier this week, Bradenburg said he was aware of San Diego’s trademark before deciding to name the Utah event Salt Lake Comic Con in 2013. But because his event’s name didn’t have a hyphen and more than 140 other events used “comic con” in their name without permission, Bradenburg believed it was appropriate to use the name.
While San Diego Comic-Con had asked for over $12 million in damages – including over $9 million to be used in a “corrective advertising campaign to separate the San Diego event from the one in Salt Lake City – jurors only awarded the plaintiff $20,000. The jury also found that while all defendants had used the trademark without permission, they did not willfully infringe the mark.
In a written statement to Courthouse News, Bjurstrom and San Diego Comic Convention’s chief communications and strategy officer David Glanzer said “from the beginning all that we asked of the defendants was to stop using our Comic-Con trademarks.”
Their statement continued: “San Diego Comic Convention has used the Comic-Con trademarks in connection with our comics and popular arts conventions for almost 50 years. 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. The jury today upheld San Diego Comic Convention’s trademarks as valid. The jury also found that Dan Farr Productions, Daniel Farr and Bryan Brandenburg each infringed San Diego Comic Convention’s marks. San Diego Comic Convention respects the decision of the jury.”
Following the verdict, Salt Lake Comic Con attorney Michael Katz of Maschoff Brennan said they were disappointed by the verdict and believed “we put on case which would support that comic con is generic.”
He said it “seemed like the jury came to some kind of compromise” since they found Salt Lake Comic Con had infringed the trademark but only awarded $20,000 of the $12 million San Diego Comic-Con asked for.
And supporters of the Salt Lake City event took to Twitter and social media after the verdict, rallying around their convention with the hashtag #IStandWithSLCC.
Although San Diego Comic-Con prevailed at trial, the case is not entirely resolved. U.S. District Judge Anthony Battaglia still needs to rule on several motions, including one for an injunction barring Salt Lake Comic Con from using the trademark in its name.
Battaglia asked attorneys for both sides to file briefs with the court within 30 days. A hearing date has not yet been set.
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