It doesn’t happen very often, but a judge has awarded attorneys’ fees in a trademark case. For years now, San Diego Comic Con has been in a dispute with Salt Lake Comic Con over San Diego Comic Con’s COMIC-CON trademark (Back in 2014, resident cosplay expert, furry aficionado, and larping champion Kevin Hartley wrote about this dispute on our old blog).
In this installment of the dispute, the California judge has entered an injunction against Salt Lake City Comic Con and awarded attorneys’ fees. Other stuff happened too, but I want to talk about the attorneys’ fees issue.
In many other countries, attorneys’ fees are awarded to the prevailing party in every case. Under the “American Rule,” however, attorneys’ fees are only awarded in cases where attorneys’ fees are explicitly allowed by statute. In federal trademark cases, attorneys’ fees are available, but only awarded in “exceptional cases”. As you can imagine, not many cases are exceptional.
Here, the judge said that Salt Lake Comic Con “repeated, re-argued, and recycled arguments” that were unsuccessful prior to trial. The judge found that this entitled San Diego Comic Con to around $4 million in attorneys’ fees. We’ll see if this holds up on appeal, but it does serve as a cautionary tale. Even though attorneys’ fees are rarely awarded, they can be astronomical.