SALT LAKE CITY — Decrying the legal campaign by FanX founders and attorneys and lambasting their defense in court, a federal judge has ordered the Utah comic and pop culture event to pay nearly $4 million in legal fees over a trademark battle with San Diego Comic-Con International.
In a 37-page order handed down Thursday in San Diego, U.S. District Judge Anthony Battaglia wrote that while compensation for legal fees is rarely awarded in trademark disputes, "the court finds that this case is not a dime a dozen."
"Instead, it is a trademark infringement lawsuit that stands out from others based on the unreasonable manner it was litigated," Battaglia wrote. He went on to say that San Diego's motion seeking fees was "bursting at the seams with incidents" backing its claim the case is "exceptional."
Battaglia ordered Dan Farr Productions — the company behind the popular arts convention now known as FanX Salt Lake Comic Convention — to pay $3,767,921.06 to San Diego Comic-Con for the cost it incurred suing the Utah event, as well as $212,323.56 it paid to experts who testified at trial.
The awards came in lower than San Diego's original requests for nearly $5 million in legal fees and $243,833.06 for expert costs.
In a statement Friday, FanX pushed back against the judge's decision and said an appeal is being considered:
"We do not expect a $4 million attorney fee award predicated on a $20,000 jury verdict to survive appellate review. We have instructed our attorneys to begin working on an appeal to the 9th Circuit — while we prepare for what we expect to be our best event ever, starting September 6."
San Diego Comic-Con spokesman David Glanzer praised the judge's meticulous review and said that thanks to his decision, "justice has finally been served."
"The rulings confirm that defendants and their attorneys engaged in outrageous conduct before the lawsuit was filed, throughout the case, at trial and post-trial. Ultimately, San Diego Comic Convention achieved what it has sought all along — an end to defendants' pervasive infringement of the Comic-Con trademarks, and an end to their brazen efforts to trade off the reputation and goodwill associated with the Comic-Con brand," Glanzer said.
He continued, "San Diego Comic Convention is not litigious. Instead, it is the defendants who made this lawsuit necessary by their flagrant disregard for San Diego Comic Convention's trademark rights."
In 2014 San Diego Comic-Con sued the Utah event over its original name, Salt Lake Comic Con, which it claimed violated trademark. Founders Dan Farr and Bryan Brandenburg adamantly and publicly defended their event and its name, pointing to dozens of similar events across the country that identified themselves using some variation of the term.
Last December a San Diego jury ruled that Salt Lake Comic Con had violated the trademarks, but hadn't done so wilfully and no false designation had occurred, meaning the Salt Lake event had never purported to be affiliated with San Diego's. Ultimately, jurors only awarded $20,000 of the $12 million San Diego Comic-Con sought in damages.
Following the trial, the Utah event's name was changed to use its FanX branding.
In his order, Battaglia was unabashedly critical of Farr, Brandenburg and their legal team for their "'head in the sand' litigation strategies" and "hodgepodge legal reasoning."
"Ultimately, resembling a broken record, (Dan Farr Productions) has repetitively restated and rehashed several contentions that they were unable to advance successfully prior to trial. This type of cyclical motion practice is objectively unreasonable and has justified attorneys' fees," Battaglia wrote.
In addition to claiming Salt Lake's attorneys violated court rules in filing motions and during the jury trial, Battaglia said that in their attempts to make convincing legal arguments, "zealous advocacy has turned into gamesmanship."
Battaglia also pointed to the FanX founders' apparent attempts to win the case in the court of public opinion through media interviews and press releases, calling the strategy "objectively irrational."
In a separate decision handed down Thursday, Battaglia also ruled that FanX be barred under a permanent injunction from using the term "comic con," including identifying their event as "previously known as Salt Lake Comic Con" or using its old saltlakecomiccon.com URL to redirect to its new website, fanxsaltlake.com. The event has 30 days to make the change.
FanX will not be required to destroy any of its previous merchandise, but is prohibited from selling it, donating it, displaying it or giving it away.
Battaglia also denied FanX's request to wait until after its upcoming event to enter judgment in the case.
Correction: An earlier version incorrectly stated that a judge had denied FanX's motion to defer payments in the case until after its upcoming event. The judge actually denied a motion to defer entering a judgment in the case.