Jury Sides With San Diego in Comic Con Trademark Battle

San Diego Convention Center - H 2012
<p>San Diego Convention Center - H 2012</p>   |   Getty Images
The panel decided that Salt Lake Comic Con used the trademarked phrase without permission, though it didn't do so willfully.

A jury on Friday sided with San Diego Comic-Con in a court battle with a rival pop culture convention in Utah over rights to use the phrase "comic con."

The panel decided that Salt Lake Comic Con used the trademarked phrase without permission, though it didn't do so willfully. The panel awarded the San Diego event $20,000 — far less than the $12 million it had sought.

"From the beginning all that we asked of the defendants was to stop using our Comic-Con trademarks," the San Diego comic convention said in a statement. "Today we obtained a verdict that will allow us to achieve this."

The Utah convention's co-founder Dan Farr told Salt Lake City TV station KUTV they plan to appeal.

Lawyers for the well-known San Diego convention argued during the trial that the upstart event in Salt Lake stole the event's name to benefit from the reputation it had built over years of hard work, Salt Lake City-based newspaper Deseret News reported.

"This case is about stealing, taking something that is not yours, something you have no right to. It's about right, and it's about wrong," Callie Bjurstrom, an attorney for San Diego Comic-Con International, said during closing arguments.

The San Diego event, which is considered the flagship of the popular convention circuit, filed a trademark violation lawsuit against the rapidly growing Salt Lake convention in 2014. Its request for $12 million in damages included a $9 million advertising campaign to clear up any confusion.

Salt Lake, though, maintains that the phrase is a generic shortened form of "comic book convention" used by 140 events around the country.

Salt Lake organizers saw dozens of unaffiliated events using the term and genuinely thought it was usable when they named their event in 2013, co-founder Bryan Brandenburg testified.

The Utah convention hasn't hurt the thriving San Diego brand, and less than 1 percent of San Diego Comic-Con attendees have been confused about whether the two events are affiliated, Salt Lake Comic Con attorney Michael Katz argued.

"From the standpoint of people out there, 'Comic Con' is generic," he said.

Salt Lake Comic Con has made nearly $3 million since it started in 2013.

Deliberations began Thursday afternoon, the eighth day of the trial. The panel was reduced to six people when one woman was excused because a wildfire was burning near her home.

Since its start in 1970, San Diego Comic-Con has grown into the holy grail of pop culture conventions, with an annual attendance of more than 135,000, consisting of both self-described geeks and Hollywood studios and actors looking to create buzz for upcoming projects.

Salt Lake Comic Con, meanwhile, has quickly grown to attract more than 120,000 people, as well as celebrity appearances by the likes of John Cusack and Captain America actor Chris Evans.