(KUTV) — A judge scolded the team behind FanX — originally known as Salt Lake Comic Con — while ordering them to pay nearly $4 million in attorneys' fees and costs for the jury trial against San Diego Comic Con.
The judge also issued an injunction against FanX, barring it from using the Comic Con brand including reminding consumers that it used to be known as Salt Lake Comic Con. It has 30 days to erase its old name from its branding, meaning its event on Sept. 6 through Sept. 8 will not fall under the injunction. It currently uses the moniker on Twitter and other places.
The ruling, the company behind the convention originally titled Salt Lake Comic Con, ordered the repayment of fees SDCC spent in order to protect its trademark. The ruling also has implications for other organizations and events that use the term "Comic Con." Some such events have negotiated licensing fees or changed names.
FanX is planning to appeal the ruling.
The Salt Lake-based convention released the following statement about the ruling:
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 Ninth Circuit — while we prepare for what we expect to be our best event ever, starting September 6.
Judge Anthony Battaglia in the U.S. District Court of Southern California called the trademark infringement case "exceptional" making it justifiable to seek repayment of legal fees by SDCC from Dan Farr Productions — called DFP in the documents. It also denied DFP's motion to make the jury's decision in May a course of law. The judge upheld the jury's decision and said it reached a reasonable conclusion. SDCC was awarded $20,000 by the jury.
Battaglia chided DFP for ignoring court rulings, including making items marked "confidential" public, including on Twitter.
Part of what made the case exceptional in the judge's decision was press releases and interviews DFP gave after getting a cease and desist letter from SDCC. Battaglia wrote:
"The Court’s analysis under this factor is best explained by quoting to Defendant Brandenburg himself. In a news article, Mr. Brandenburg explained his reaction to receiving SDCC’s cease and desist letter:
Our knee jerk reaction was that [SDCC was] trying to intimidate us” . . . “We were not going to cease and desist using the name. We decided to go public about it.” After consulting with their lawyers, the team behind the Salt Lake Comic Con knew they had strong legal ground to stand on, but they didn’t want to go to court, they wanted to win in the court of public opinion . . . “Everyone said that San Diego had no leg to stand on, but the only way to win this would be to outspend them on legal fees” . . . “Our strategy was, if we are going to spend legal fees vs. legal fees, we wanted to be creative. We put it out to the public, challenging the cease and desist letter publically.
"Refusing to cease and desist and turning to the media to litigate a trademark infringement case in the court of “public opinion” is objectively irrational," the judge wrote while also explaining it didn't seek to limit free speech.
"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 and thus an award of attorneys’ fees and costs to SDCC is justified."
San Diego Comic Con asked for nearly $5 million in costs and a good portion of the document breaks down legal expenses. It also denied SDCC's request for a new trial regarding the jury finding DFP's action of using Comic Con weren't "willful."
"Ultimately, resembling a broken record, DFP 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 ... The Court notes that at certain points, DFP’s zealous advocacy has turned into gamesmanship."
The rulings made national and Hollywood news.