SALT LAKE CITY — Like a classic tale of an underdog hero taking on a powerful foe, Salt Lake Comic Con officials believe they may have conquered their well-established San Diego rival in a trademark dispute.
The Utah convention announced Thursday that it has been awarded a trademark for its name, which San Diego Comic-Con International has claimed infringed upon its own trademark, which could render the legal battle between the two conventions moot.
The United States Patent and Trademark Office decided that the term "comic con" was too generic to trademark, but that "Salt Lake Comic Con" was specific and distinguishable, affirming the crux of the Utah group's defense in the case.
"Based on everything we know, the fact that they gave us a trademark and they gave San Diego a trademark, they have determined there is no confusion between those two marks," Salt Lake Comic Con co-founder Bryan Brandenburg said Thursday.
Representatives for San Diego Comic-Con International, however, did not see the trademark decision as a definitive victory for the Salt Lake convention.
"We were less surprised by the registration than we were of the organizers' take on it," David Glanzer, a spokesman for the San Diego convention, said in a prepared statement. "As there is no opposition process for a supplemental registration we of course were not able to oppose it, however we are engaging this matter as part of the normal course of protecting our already granted and incontestable trademarks."
Peter Hahn, an attorney for San Diego Comic-Con, said the trademark award will have no bearing on the organization's ongoing lawsuit.
"San Diego Comic Convention will continue to protect its incontestable rights in the Comic-Con mark until Dan Farr Productions discontinues infringement of the Comic-Con mark — even if that means having the court force Dan Farr Productions to comply with the law."
San Diego Comic-Con International filed the lawsuit in Southern California's U.S. District Court last August, attempting to sue Salt Lake Comic Con for using the moniker "comic con" in its name and promotional materials. A month later, the Utah convention put on its largest event to date, attracting more than 120,000 delighted fans.
Earlier this month a federal judge, who had declined to dismiss the lawsuit, told the two organizations to begin scheduling hearings in the case.
San Diego Comic-Con holds the trademark on "comic-con," with a hyphen, but abandoned its 1995 bid for the rights to "comic con," with a space.
Though their very public assertion that San Diego Comic-Con has no right to the name, Salt Lake organizers said they were also standing up in defense of similarly named events across the country, especially those without the resources for a legal showdown with the flagship name in comic and pop culture conventions.
We felt that this battle wasn't one that we were involved with alone, this was a battle that involved all the people that used the term 'comic con' before us. Somebody had to stand ground on this. Whether (other conventions) apply or not for use of a trademark, they won't necessarily have to respond if someone tells them they can't use (comic con).
–Salt Lake Comic Con co-founder Dan Farr
"We felt that this battle wasn't one that we were involved with alone, this was a battle that involved all the people that used the term 'comic con' before us," co-founder Dan Farr said. "Somebody had to stand ground on this. Whether (other conventions) apply or not for use of a trademark, they won't necessarily have to respond if someone tells them they can't use (comic con)."
Salt Lake Comic Con's attorneys have not yet filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit, but will be evaluating options to resolve the case, Brandenburg said.
"We have reached out to San Diego to let them know that we have received a trademark and that we are still interested in amicably coming to some kind of settlement," Brandenburg said.
Meanwhile, Salt Lake Comic Con announced one of its biggest celebrity guests to date last week as "Captain America" star Chris Evans was revealed as a headliner for September's convention.
The homegrown geek event has been an overnight success in Utah and continues to grow, with more guest announcements planned for coming weeks and potential partnerships in the works, according to Brandenburg.
Organizers say their positive reputation and unwavering fan support have augmented opportunities to attract exciting guests and supported them through their legal fights.
"None of this would have been possible if we wouldn't have had such tremendous support from our fans and the community because it did take a lot of financial resources to deal with this and it took a lot of support at our defense," Brandenburg said. "If they had walked away from us and said, 'You know, they have this lawsuit, I don't want to go to the next convention,' we would have been in big trouble. But they continued to support us."
Organizers hope to make the third installment of Salt Lake Comic Con, happening Sept. 24-26, their largest event yet.
Guests announced so far for September's convention include John Barrowman, "Arrow"; Felicia Day, "The Guild" and "Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog"; Ian Somerhalder, "Vampire Diaries"; Sean Astin, "Lord of the Rings"; Christopher Gorham, "Once Upon a Time"; Anthony Daniels, "Star Wars"; and Scott Wilson, "The Walking Dead."