By David Baker, Esq.
While your life may pass by without ever giving comic book conventions a single thought, for many devotees of the art form (yes, it is considered an art form) comic book conventions (sometimes called “celebrations of the popular arts”) are the main reason they read and collect comics. They like to dress up like favorite characters and meet favorite artists and, of course, buy comic books and stuff related to comic books by the bagful.
And while you are probably oblivious to the fact that one or more comic book conventions take place in your city every year and draw anywhere from several thousands to over 150,000 attendees, the industries that rely on comic book fans to spread the good word about their latest release, including both the television and movie industries, really do depend on them for the success of their movies and television shows.
Now that you know more than you ever wanted to know about comic book conventions, you should not be surprised that those conventions are also very competitive. After all, there are only so many comic book dollars to go around and each convention wants to draw as many exhibitors, attendees, and “special guests” as possible. And what better way to fight over those limited fan dollars than to get into a good old-fashioned dustup over trademark rights?
San Diego Comic Con International, as it is officially known, is inarguably the biggest comic book convention in America and it just completed its 2014 edition. Third in line behind San Diego in sheer number of attendees is the Salt Lake City convention which, unfortunately, calls itself the “Salt Lake City Comic Con.” This upset the organizers of the San Diego event because San Diego Comic Convention, Inc. (“SDCCI”) owns the U.S. federal trademark registration for the word mark “COMIC CON” (it was first registered in 1992) and SDCCI believes that Salt Lake City Comic Con is infringing on the registration by intentionally creating confusion between the two marks.
SDCCI is not the only comic book convention to use some variation of the “COMIC CON” trademark, but it is the most protective of the mark.
Of course, the organizers of San Diego Comic are not upset that Salt Lake City Comic Con labels itself “Salt Lake City.” After all, very few of us would confuse San Diego with Salt Lake City even if the first two letters of both city names are identical. However, they are upset that Salt Lake City Comic Con includes the words “Comic Con” in its name and now Salt Lake City may have gone too far, so far, in fact, that lawyers for SDCCI have sent a “cease and desist” letter to the coordinators of Salt Lake City’s convention telling them to stop using “Comic Con” in the name.SDCCI’s lawyers point out that a business contacted them about a red Audi seen in San Diego bearing a vinyl wrap promoting Salt Lake Comic Con and expressed confusion about it belonging to the San Diego event. This prompted the letter, which asserts “Attendees, exhibitors and fans seeing use of ‘Comic Con’ in connection with your convention will incorrectly assume that your convention is in some way affiliated with [San Diego Comic-Con].” Organizers of the Salt Lake City Comic Con are quick to point out that several competing comic book conventions, including New York Comic Con and Denver Comic, neither having any affiliation with SDCCI or San Diego Comic Con, have been using the “COMIC CON” trademark for years, apparently without complaint from SDCCI.
While this is not a complete defense to a claim of trademark infringement, it does raise the question of why comic book conventions can’t just get along.