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The wrath of Comic-Con: S.L. convention readies for trademark fight

Published: Monday, July 28 2014 9:50 p.m. MDT

Harper Brace, as Darth Vader, and Collier Brace, as Yoda, attend Comic Con with their parents Matt Brace and Heather Brace at the Salt Palace Convention Center in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Sept. 7, 2013.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — The founders of Utah's year-old comic and pop-culture convention are preparing to fight on behalf of geeks everywhere as the reigning San Diego Comic-Con attempts to claim the title "Comic Con" for itself.

The San Diego convention, which was in full swing over the weekend, sent a letter to Salt Lake Comic Con on Friday ordering the upstart convention to turn over its website, saltlakecomiccon.com, and drop "Comic Con" from its name, advertising and promotional materials.

"We did feel like we had to take a really strong public position on this because they don't have the rights to the phrase 'Comic Con,'" said Bryan Brandenburg, co-founder and chief marketing officer at Salt Lake Comic Con, speaking by phone in San Diego. "For them to threaten us and want us to turn over our website is outrageous."

Salt Lake Comic Con attracted 72,000 guests to its inaugural event last fall and had 100,000 at its FanX convention in April, while San Diego Comic-Con regularly tops 130,000 attendees. Brandenburg predicted earlier this month that the 2014 Salt Lake Comic Con, happening Sept. 4-6, could draw as many as 120,000 guests.

San Diego organizers said in their letter they have no qualms with the "FanX" title.

Attorneys representing San Diego Comic-Con did not respond to requests for comment Monday.

San Diego Comic Con holds the trademark on "Comic-Con," with a hyphen, but abandoned its 1995 bid for the moniker "Comic Con," with a space. Conventions across the U.S. and a few outside the country also use "Comic Con" in their name.

Salt Lake Comic Con organizers are reaching out to some of those other conventions for support, warning that the outcome of the rumble between San Diego and Salt Lake could impact them as well.

"A lot of people realize that if San Diego is able to do something with us, then they'll be in a position to do something with everyone, and that's not good for the fans or the promoters," said Brandenburg, who declined to name which organizations he had been in contact with.

"We thought that if they were doing this with us, maybe they were going to do this with other comic cons in the future, and we weren't going to let them kind of privately bully some of the smaller comic cons," Brandenburg said. "There are a lot of comic cons around the country who have a lot to lose if we lose."

Salt Lake Comic Con officials posted a news release and the cease and desist letter online and began alerting their followers to updates as the story spread.

"We're being very public about this because we're 100 percent sure we're going to prevail in this situation," Brandenburg said. "We felt like the most interesting thing to do would be to put it out to the fans and see what they think."

Fans of Salt Lake Comic Con responded en masse, unleashing their nerd rage through memes, comments and posts shared on social media. The posts reached half a million people on Facebook, Brandenburg said.

"It is really sad though that one convention wants to limit nerddom everywhere," wrote one fan. "All it's gonna do is make the other cons more popular," said another. Dozens more postulated the more established con feels threatened by the Salt Lake event's meteoric rise.

Nevertheless, Brandenburg said he hopes Salt Lake supporters won't be too hostile toward San Diego Comic-Con.

The issue began, Brandenburg said, when Salt Lake Comic Con organizers made plans to take their geeked-out Audi to San Diego Comic-Con for a photo op with celebrities scheduled to come to Utah this fall. Their hotel contacted San Diego organizers.

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