SAN DIEGO — Following a social media post seeking to rally fans near the end of a jury trial in a long-running trademark dispute, a federal judge threatened to throw one of the founders of Salt Lake Comic Con in jail if he strays during his testimony.
While jurors in the case were out of the courtroom Wednesday, attorneys for San Diego Comic-Con read a Facebook post from the Salt Lake event to U.S. District Court Judge Anthony Battaglia, speculating the remarks could be a deliberate attempt to cause a mistrial.
"I think this is a highly inappropriate post," said attorney Callie Bjurstrom. "It is just a complete attempt to taint whoever they can reach."
The post announced that Salt Lake Comic Con co-founder Bryan Brandenburg will take the witness stand Wednesday to show that "comic con is owned by the people, by all the fans that experience the joy and celebration of comic con in cities all over the world."
Battaglia prohibited such arguments during the trial based on objections from San Diego. He warned that if Brandenburg intends to make any such statements during his testimony, "tell him to bring his toothbrush with him."
"I will put them in jail if they violate this order. They are not to escalate this case into a war involving the world," Battaglia said.
In an earlier order, Battaglia had also barred Brandenburg and co-founder Dan Farr from discussing the case, including on their personal social media pages. That order was struck down in October by 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, which found it violated First Amendment protections of free speech.
"The circuit seems to believe people can say whatever they want in the world and in the media, but they don't get that privilege in my courtroom," Battaglia noted Wednesday.
The judge went on to say that Brandenburg's conduct has been "outrageous throughout this case."
The San Diego and Salt Lake comic and pop culture conventions have been locked in a trademark dispute since the summer of 2014.
Since it first filed its cease-and-desist order and lawsuit, San Diego Comic-Con has claimed its new rival was violating trademark laws and trying to profit from its success. The case was filed after organizers drove a Salt Lake Comic Con branded Audi around San Diego during its annual event.
San Diego Comic-Con, a nonprofit organization that has been around since 1970, has a trademark on "comic-con" with a hyphen, but was unsuccessful in its 1995 bid to trademark "comic con," with a space. The event maintains, however, that its trademark covers the term "comic con" in all its iterations. Its trademarked logo does not include a hyphen.
Salt Lake Comic Con argues it was not using a protected form of the word, and that the term now widely used to describe similar events has become too generic to qualify for a trademark. The Utah event went on to file a countersuit of its own.
Now, the case is in its final two days before a jury.
Brandenburg is expected to be the final witness in Salt Lake Comic Con's defense.
According to the Facebook post from Wednesday, if Salt Lake Comic Con loses at trial, it intends to appeal.
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