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The wrath of Comic-Con: S.L. convention readies for trademark fight

By McKenzie Romero, Deseret News

Published: Mon, July 28 9:50 p.m. MDT

 Harper Brace, as Darth Vader, and Collier Brace, as Yoda, attend Comic Con with their parents Matt Brace and Heather Brace at the Salt Palace Convention Center in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Sept. 7, 2013.

Harper Brace, as Darth Vader, and Collier Brace, as Yoda, attend Comic Con with their parents Matt Brace and Heather Brace at the Salt Palace Convention Center in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Sept. 7, 2013.

(Kristin Murphy, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — The founders of Utah's year-old comic and pop-culture convention are preparing to fight on behalf of geeks everywhere as the reigning San Diego Comic-Con attempts to claim the title "Comic Con" for itself.

The San Diego convention, which was in full swing over the weekend, sent a letter to Salt Lake Comic Con on Friday ordering the upstart convention to turn over its website, saltlakecomiccon.com, and drop "Comic Con" from its name, advertising and promotional materials.

"We did feel like we had to take a really strong public position on this because they don't have the rights to the phrase 'Comic Con,'" said Bryan Brandenburg, co-founder and chief marketing officer at Salt Lake Comic Con, speaking by phone in San Diego. "For them to threaten us and want us to turn over our website is outrageous."

Salt Lake Comic Con attracted 72,000 guests to its inaugural event last fall and had 100,000 at its FanX convention in April, while San Diego Comic-Con regularly tops 130,000 attendees. Brandenburg predicted earlier this month that the 2014 Salt Lake Comic Con, happening Sept. 4-6, could draw as many as 120,000 guests.

San Diego organizers said in their letter they have no qualms with the "FanX" title.

Attorneys representing San Diego Comic-Con did not respond to requests for comment Monday.

San Diego Comic Con holds the trademark on "Comic-Con," with a hyphen, but abandoned its 1995 bid for the moniker "Comic Con," with a space. Conventions across the U.S. and a few outside the country also use "Comic Con" in their name.

Salt Lake Comic Con organizers are reaching out to some of those other conventions for support, warning that the outcome of the rumble between San Diego and Salt Lake could impact them as well.

"A lot of people realize that if San Diego is able to do something with us, then they'll be in a position to do something with everyone, and that's not good for the fans or the promoters," said Brandenburg, who declined to name which organizations he had been in contact with.

"We thought that if they were doing this with us, maybe they were going to do this with other comic cons in the future, and we weren't going to let them kind of privately bully some of the smaller comic cons," Brandenburg said. "There are a lot of comic cons around the country who have a lot to lose if we lose."

Salt Lake Comic Con officials posted a news release and the cease and desist letter online and began alerting their followers to updates as the story spread.

"We're being very public about this because we're 100 percent sure we're going to prevail in this situation," Brandenburg said. "We felt like the most interesting thing to do would be to put it out to the fans and see what they think."

Fans of Salt Lake Comic Con responded en masse, unleashing their nerd rage through memes, comments and posts shared on social media. The posts reached half a million people on Facebook, Brandenburg said.

"It is really sad though that one convention wants to limit nerddom everywhere," wrote one fan. "All it's gonna do is make the other cons more popular," said another. Dozens more postulated the more established con feels threatened by the Salt Lake event's meteoric rise.

Nevertheless, Brandenburg said he hopes Salt Lake supporters won't be too hostile toward San Diego Comic-Con.

The issue began, Brandenburg said, when Salt Lake Comic Con organizers made plans to take their geeked-out Audi to San Diego Comic-Con for a photo op with celebrities scheduled to come to Utah this fall. Their hotel contacted San Diego organizers.

San Diego organizers told Salt Lake Comic Con founder Dan Farr not to bring the car onto their turf and threatened legal action if it showed up. Not wanting to cause a problem, Farr and Brandenburg had the car stop en route Thursday.

"We talked about it and said, 'We don't have to do anything. They have no legal right to tell us we can't have a car on the streets of San Diego. But, you know, we'll tell them to stop in Las Vegas. We're not going to do this because we don't want to create any bad will with San Diego,'" Brandenburg said.

When the cease and desist letter showed up anyway the next day, Salt Lake Comic Con organizers decided to bring the car to San Diego after all.

It is also suspected Salt Lake Comic Con antagonized the West Coast convention earlier this year when some celebrity guests opted to attend FanX rather than the 27-year-old WonderCon, happening that same weekend. San Diego Comic-Con took over WonderCon in 2002. In 2011, WonderCon attracted almost 50,000 attendees, half of what FanX saw in April.

"They did contact us and, you know, express that they were annoyed with us having the convention at the same time," Brandenburg said.

The Salt Lake event's legal team is preparing to respond by the Aug. 6 deadline set in the cease and desist letter, all the while updating their horde of fans about the case's progress and moving toward their next event.

"We've said all along that we have the best fans in the world, and boy this sure confirmed it," Brandenburg said. "We're going to continue to be very public about this and keep our fans informed, and we're going to continue to announce some really great guests and get ready for the show here in September."

Email: mromero@deseretnews.com, Twitter: McKenzieRomero

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1. starpilot
pueblo, CO,
July 28, 2014

I thought I left a comment on this, apparently not. Anyhow, I don't think SD invented the term comic con, it simply means comic convention. it's weird to see them be so odd about this - because very very very few people are going to think Utah is affiliated with SD.

2. MuseCat
Farmington, UT,
July 29, 2014

It is just to funny that San Diego thinks that Salt Lake would roll over and play dead. I went through something similar with a start up company many years ago and San Diego doesn't have a leg to stand on. They missed a very important step in their trade mark filings, so sad :( but it is their mistake, so they need to quit trying to BULLYING their way into other company's businesses.

3. PLM
Kaysville, UT,
July 29, 2014

Great title McKenzie!

4. Denverite
Centennial, CO,
July 29, 2014

@starpilot: Actually, I think a lot of people could easily be confused and think the two have something to do with each other. Not those seriously into comics, perhaps, but everyone else.

And, IIRC about trademark law, if the San Diego people don't complain about it, it's understood that they have no objection to Salt Lake's use of the term (or near-term)--and then if anyone else were to try to use the Comic-Con trademark or something similar and San Diego complained about that, a judge could tell San Diego, "Well, you didn't complain about Salt Lake before, so clearly you don't care whether others use it or not, and so I will let these other people use it, too."

5. neece
Logan, UT,
July 29, 2014

Seriously? Since when did they corner the market on "comic con" I personally think they need to grow up play nice... they aren't the only one's playing in the sand box.