Just when things looked all lovey dovey on the convention front, Kiel Phegley reports that Canadian convention organizer Hobby Star has filed a lawsuit against Reed Pop and Zuffa LLC, owner of the UFC, over the use of the term “Fan Expo,” which Hobby Star claims to have trademarked. Reed and the UFC, the hugely popular mixed martial arts organization, have been putting on a series of “UFC Fan Expo” events in conjunction with their fight shows. However, Hobby Star puts on the Fan Expo Canada every year, generally considered the third biggest comic-con-type show in North America. The suit probably only covers the Canadian use of the term “Fan Expo,” however:
In the federal court statement obtained by CBR News, Hobby Star has filed for trade-mark infringement on the name “Fan Expo” as well as the slogan “The Ultimate Fan Experience” and the web domain www.ufcfanexpo.com. The papers were filed in a Toronto federal court and make no mention of previous UFC events labeled as “Fan Expos” such as a London, England event last summer, nor do they mention anything about the company’s potential plans for a Fan Expo in Las Vegas this summer. This is likely because Hobby Star only have the “Fan Expo” trademark registered within Canada.
As Phegley writes, this is the latest in a somewhat feisty history for all concerned:
This case marks the latest wrinkle in the overriding back-and-forth actions between convention organizers that have popped up over the last several years. While Reed has publicly jostled with the Wizard World series of shows over dates, locations and treatment of staff over the past two years, Hobby Star is also known as a shrewd player when it comes to defending its brand. From 2004 to around 2007, the Toronto Fan Expo made the local comics press thanks to a hard-lined booking feud with the smaller local show known as the Paradise Comicon. Those grudges seem to have receded in recent years as Wizard World bought up Paradise and rebranded it the Toronto Comicon (also held in the Direct Energy Centre).
He also notes that the term “comic-con” itself has been trademarked by Comic-Con International (the non-profit organization that puts on you know what.) However, since CCI has not protected the trademark for years and years — anyone can use it — they have likely lost the rights to any trademark damages.
Just as a reminder, US courts only enforce trademark infringement when the trademark owner DEFENDS their trademark. Thus over the years, such brands as Kitty Litter and Kleenex have sent out many a C&D letter claiming to defend their trademarks when they are casually used in writing everywhere. With the proliferation of the internet, such casual usage has only snowballed, making trademark defense ever more of an ongoing activity.
Trademark usage is also why you continually see big entertainment conglomerates roll out one-shots or miniseries for obscure characters — they need to reassert the trademark so no one else can call a comic-book WOODGOD.
As for the current con wars — well, see next item, but also if this one comes to a street fight, we’re totally putting our money on the UFC.
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.