We’ve been following the trademark dispute between the Salt Lake Comic Con and the San Diego Comic-Con for some time now, including all of its strange ups and downs. Despite this whole dispute starting something like three years ago, the trial itself has kept a brisk pace, with SLCC already resting its defense and jury deliberations beginning this week as well. While we’ll have to wait for the jury’s decision, the trial has gone pretty much as we expected. SDCC rolled out its trademark registration that it appears to have forgotten it ever had until recently from an enforcement perspective, along with some commissioned surveys suggesting that the public views the word “comic-con” as a brand and not a generic term. SLCC has pointed out that there are a ton of other comic cons out there, few of which have any licensing agreement with SDCC, and SLCC had expert witnesses poke some glaring holes in the SDCC’s survey.
Andrew Baker, associate professor of marketing at San Diego State University, reviewed the survey for Salt Lake Comic Con and testified Wednesday that the results are flawed. Because of risks he saw of “good participant bias,” and because the online survey didn’t include a way to weed out unreliable responses from people who may have attempted to fill out the survey for money, Baker criticized the results as inconclusive.
“This study cannot be relied upon to tell us the percentage of people who think comic con is a brand,” Baker testified.
Bryan Brandenburg, one of the partners behind SLCC, took the stand to recount the process by which they came up with the name Salt Lake Comic Con. As you’d expect, he recounted searching around for other similar conventions, noting that nearly all of them were using the “comic con” phrase, or some variant of it, and concluding that this is just what those types of shows are called. It’s an understandable position, particularly given the descriptive nature of the phrase. A “comic con” is a “comic convention.” Simple. One would hope the jury would understand that simple fact.
But there was some minor drama in the courtroom surrounding SLCC’s desire to speak out about the case on its social media platforms, specifically to do with Brandenburg’s testimony and the defense he would offer.
The post announced that Brandenburg would take the witness stand to show that “comic con is owned by the people, by all the fans that experience the joy and celebration of comic con in cities all over the world.”
Battaglia prohibited such arguments in the trial based on objections raised beforehand by San Diego. He warned that if Brandenburg intended to make any such statements during his testimony, “tell him to bring his toothbrush with him.”
Notably, Brandenburg did not raise that defense on the stand, so His Honor was not forced to put him in jail. But this wasn’t the only remark Judge Battaglia made on the subject. He expanded upon it in a way that shows him bristling with the striking down of his earlier gag order on SLCC from speaking at all about the case.
“The circuit seems to believe people can say whatever they want in the world and in the media, but they don’t get that privilege in my courtroom,” Battaglia noted Wednesday.
Well, okay then. While I’ve cheered on SLCC discussing the case in public for the benefit of that public, and while we were quite critical of Battaglia’s gag order, the freedom to speak is not without its dangers. It’s a little surprising that SLCC would be so cavalier with its public comments on social media sites that run directly contrary to the orders of a judge who had already tried to slap it with a gag order. That’s just silly and a sign that, whatever happens moving forward, SLCC should probably get its PR house in order.
Regardless, the jury is in deliberations and you can be sure we’ll be commenting on the results they bring back.