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Salt Lake Comic Con scored a win in its dispute with San Diego Comic-Con, thanks to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
San Diego sued Salt Lake last year in U.S. District Court for Southern California, alleging Salt Lake's name was too similar and confused people into thinking the two events are connected. After negotiations between the two parties failed earlier this month, the two were headed to trial.
But on July 14, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office granted Salt Lake Comic Con a trademark on its name. Though co-founder Dan Farr had not heard yet what the decision's ramifications might be for the lawsuit, he said the development "should be good news."
However, his co-founder Bryan Brandeburg took a stronger stance on the victory in a statement released later Thursday.
"We're confident that this decision from the USTPO will virtually eliminate this ongoing legal battle," Brandenburg said. "… By granting us a trademark for 'Salt Lake Comic Con,' the trademark office is literally declaring our right to not only use comic con in our name… [but] it further declares that San Diego's trademarked name is NOT 'confusingly similar' to our trademarked name, which is the nexus of the lawsuit."
As Salt Lake's organizers have long argued, this legal battle wasn't just between them and the flagship convention; it was a threat to the dozens of other comic book conventions around the world that also use the "comic con" name. Brandenburg previously asserted that if San Diego wins this case, it has a precedent to do this to others.
"We definitely feel that we were in the right all along," Farr said. "… It's not a win just for us. This is positive for people using the term 'comic con' all around the nation."
Technically, San Diego has the hyphenated version of "Comic-Con" trademarked, but not "comic con." However, its legal team argued in a cease-and-desist letter to Salt Lake that the similarity of "Comic Con" in another event's name, without the hyphen, confused people into thinking the event is somehow associated with San Diego's convention.
The Salt Lake Comic Con organizers filed the trademark application several days after receiving the cease-and-desist letter from San Diego.
"It's one of those things [we] should have done earlier. In hindsight, I don't know why we didn't," Farr said.
In the months that followed, Salt Lake and San Diego's lawyers have been in negotiations. But those talks failed in early July, and the lawsuit is heading to trial.
A trial date has not yet been set.
Farr figured back in August that such an approval from the patent office might settle the lawsuit.
"Hopefully the government will settle that, so we don't have to go to court over it," he said then.
Salt Lake plans to go ahead with its original name for its 2015 event, scheduled for Sept. 24-26 at the Salt Palace Convention Center.
An attorney representing Salt Lake Comic Con could not be immediately reached for comment.