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Salt Lake FanX? Website signals official name change for Salt Lake Comic Con

New name comes alongside duel in post-trial motions

FILE - Theo Parry-Mclarty is in amazement at he looks toys while Atticus Bennett points out what he wants at Salt Lake Comic Con in the Salt Palace in Salt Lake City Thursday, Sept. 21, 2017.
FILE - Theo Parry-Mclarty is in amazement at he looks toys while Atticus Bennett points out what he wants at Salt Lake Comic Con in the Salt Palace in Salt Lake City Thursday, Sept. 21, 2017.
Adam Fondren, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah's homegrown pop culture convention dropped a new website Wednesday, signaling an official name change after losing a trial over a trademark dispute with a San Diego organization.

The rebranding comes even as the dueling conventions launched a volley of post-trial motions seeking new verdicts on the points they each lost.

Salt Lake Comic Con launched the website under the name FanX Salt Lake Comic Convention, the name it has been floating on social media accounts since a jury last month found that calling the event a "comic con" violated trademark laws.

The jury's decision asserted that San Diego Comic-Con International — the widely known annual celebration of comics and popular arts — holds a valid trademark on the term "comic-con," and that the Salt Lake event and its founders were using it without permission.

Because San Diego's trademarks on "Comic Con International" and its iconic "eye logo" also include the term, jurors found they were being infringed upon as well.

However, the jury also ruled that the trademarks weren't violated wilfully, and no false designation had occurred, meaning the Salt Lake event had never purported to be affiliated with San Diego's. Ultimately, only $20,000 of the $12 million San Diego Comic-Con had sought in damages was awarded.

Attorneys for the Salt Lake event filed a motion in Southern California's U.S. District Court on Wednesday asking for a new trial on whether San Diego Comic-Con's trademarks have become too generic to be protected.

The motion claims that Judge Anthony Battaglia's pretrial rulings in San Diego's favor crippled Salt Lake's arguments that comic con is generic, including restricting evidence other conventions had been using the term in the 1960s, a decade before San Diego was.

Salt Lake also disputes the judge's instruction to jurors that third-party use of a trademarked term is not justification to find it has become generic, and that San Diego is not required to police other trademark violations in order to maintain its right to the term.

San Diego has filed its own motions calling for either a verdict from the judge or a new trial. The accompanying details about the motion are sealed, but the jurors' verdict skewed in Salt Lake's favor on whether the Salt Lake event falsely aligned itself with San Diego by calling itself a comic con, and on the amount of damages awarded in the case.

In addition to calling for Salt Lake to pay more than $4.5 million in attorney's fees, something only allowed in "exceptional" cases, San Diego is also seeking to bar Salt Lake permanently from ever using the term comic con again.

The legal battle began in the summer of 2014 when San Diego Comic-Con filed a cease-and-desist order against the Utah event, which was in its first year.

Salt Lake's attorneys argued during that trial that the term "comic con" has become so widely used, it is now too generic to protect by trademark. While Salt Lake insisted about 140 similar conventions nationwide currently call themselves comic cons, San Diego argued the other events are "all infringers" and could not be considered in the case.

San Diego's attorneys accused the Salt Lake organizers at trial of deliberately and maliciously capitalizing on the brand that the nonprofit organization spent more than 45 years building.

Bryan Brandenburg, one of the founders of the Salt Lake convention, said Wednesday that the organizers hadn't considered changing the event's name before the jury came back with its verdict. In light of the decision, organizers hope to re-brand the event as more of a general entertainment convention under the FanX name.

"In some ways, comic con was a limitation because sometimes people gave us a hard time for not bringing in more comic artists," Brandenburg said. "It really is an opportunity to not have to apologize for bringing in guests like Dick Van Dyke and John Cena and Buzz Aldrin."

Brandenburg maintains, however, that the event's comic-centric roots will remain.

Meanwhile, Salt Lake's FanX event is already set for Sept. 6-8. The event's social media pages lit up Wednesday with its latest guest announcement, Karl Urban, who is known for his roles in the "Lord of the Rings" franchise, the new generation of "Star Strek" movies, and the latest Marvel hit, "Thor: Ragnarok."