‘Comic-Con’ Trademark At Stake

An upcoming case will determine whether “Comic-Con” is considered generic, or if San Diego Comic-Com has exclusive rights to the phrase.

San Diego Comic-Con Cosplay
– San Diego Comic-Con Cosplay

SDCC is suing Salt Lake Comic Con producers Daniel Farr and Bryan Brandenburg, claiming the Utah convention in infringing on its trademark.

The “Comic-Con” trademark hangs in the balance: If SDCC wins, all other “comic cons” are at risk. If they lose, “Comic-Con” will become a generic phrase, available for anyone to use.

In a summery ruling issued Sept. 12, U.S. District Court Judge Antony Battaglia recognized SDCC’s four registered trademarks, in addition to accepting testimony from its expert, Matthew Ezell, who conducted a survey revealing that 82 percent of participants recognize Comic-Con as a brand name.

Unfortunately for Farr and Brandenburg, Battaglia rejected the testimony of their expert, Jeffery Kaplan. Battaglia said Kaplan had insufficient evidence to suggest that “Comic-Con” is a generic term. He also said prior events that used the “Comic-Con” name, such as the “1964 New York Comicon,” are not sufficient evidence to suggest that the phrase was generic before SDCC began using it in 1970.

But the Judge recognized the ubiquity of “Comic-Con” to describe similar conventions. “Here, defendants produce evidence that “comic cons” are held in nearly every state of the United States including New York Comic Con, Amazing Arizona Comic Con, Emerald City Comic Con and Tampa Bay Comic Con,” states the opinion, “This evidence of over 100 competitors using the unhyphenated form of the plaintiff’s trademark strongly suggest the that the mark is generic. Consequently, this is persuasive evidence of genericide.”   

Battaglia also noted other formerly trademarked terms which eventually became generic, such as aspirin, escalator and cellophane.  

Jurors will decide the outcome of the case when it goes to trial in November.