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Rivals at loggerheads over a coveted trademark

If you're a fan of popular cultural in its various guises, and especially of comic books and science fiction as portrayed in novels and on the big screen, you've likely heard the term "comic con."

And, more than likely, that reference relates specifically to San Diego Comic-Con, an organization started in 1970 to celebrate comics and other art forms. Comic-Con has now ballooned into a massive annual gala, being described in one recent media article as "the Holy Grail of pop culture conventions."

With a reputation like that, it's not surprising that Comic-Con officials are firm about protecting their name, which they have registered as a proprietary trademark.

That hasn't stopped other parties -- other conventions with a similar theme and agenda -- from adopting variants of that name, a fact that resulted fairly recently in Comic-Con filing a trademark infringement lawsuit against one competitor, Utah-based Comic Con (no hyphen).

Does that litigation have merit?

As noted in the above-cited article, Comic-Con creators argue that they have protected rights in the term "comic con" and in all variant forms that it might be expressed.

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office recently disagreed with that assessment when, in granting Salt Lake Comic Con a trademark for its designated name, it stated that "comic con" alone was too generic and open-ended to warrant trademark protection.

The PTO's comments are currently on the back burner as the San Diego organization's lawsuit winds its way through federal court. The litigants on both sides recently petitioned the federal judge overseeing their case for some time to work things out outside of court.

The dispute is anything but academic, with trademark rights commanding real clout for marketing and sales purposes.

To wit: The Salt Lake organization was created in 2013. Its convention a year later reportedly attracted more than 120,000 people.

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