By David Baker, Esq.
Along with popular media megastar Stan Lee, this past weekend, more than 75,000 fans descended on the Convention Center in downtown Los Angeles to celebrate their mutual love of comic book s and all the things that have been spawned by comic books. Whether you religiously watch television shows like The Walking Dead or you prefer blockbuster superhero movies like Doctor Strange or even if you just wanted to pick up another copy of the latest Batman graphic novel, there was something that would interest you at the comic book convention.
But this year’s event was different because it was no longer called Stan Lee’s Comikaze (the name it has used since its inception six years ago) and was instead branded Stan Lee’s Los Angeles Comic Con (even though it has no official affiliation with the better known San Diego Comic-Con®). Other than signage and branding on the convention’s publications and swag (t-shirts, stickers, and such), the convention was much like in years past with hundreds of cosplayers portraying their favorite fictional characters, even more photographers jostling to grab photographs of the cosplayers, and almost a thousand unique exhibitors selling their wares.
Nevertheless, the rebranding raises some interesting questions, particularly given ongoing litigation between the owners of the San Diego Comic-Con® event held in mid-July of every year and certain other conventions, including the Salt Lake City Comic Con. Still, there are numerous other extremely similar comic book convention, some rivaling the San Diego event in size and scope (anyone been to the New York Comic Con?), and most of them use some version of the “comic con” name.
San Diego Comic Convention, owner of the “Comic-Con” trademark registered with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (the “PTO”), has been very tight lipped about any licensing or other arrangements with the various conventions that have popped up around the country in recent and it is unclear if the organizers of the Stan Lee branded event sought permission before the rebranding was implemented. It is also unclear what the San Diego Comic-Con® group thinks of the rebranding.
But if trademark registrations are any indication of possible future problems, a quick look at the PTO’s website reveals that San Diego Comic Convention has filed an application for registration of “LA COMIC-CON” [USPTO TM Ser. No. 86774356] and fans are left wonder if this portends a showdown between two of the longest standing superheroes of the comic book universe.
Why It Matters. Generally speaking, the use of an identical mark on the same good or service would clearly constitute infringement. And, If a party owns the rights to a particular trademark, that party can sue subsequent users of the trademark for trademark infringement. The standard is “likelihood of confusion.” To be more specific, the use of a trademark in connection with the sale of a good constitutes infringement if it is likely to cause consumer confusion as to the source of those goods or as to the sponsorship or approval of such goods. Essentially, this means that the law will not allow the use of two separate “LA COMIC-CON” trademarks to be used to describe competing events unless the owners of the two marks have agreed to do so.