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Why Is Houston's Convention Bureau Worried Space City Comic Con Might Ruin Its Rep?

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Even though the Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau may be tasked with boosting tourism in Houston, there's one upcoming event it would rather take to court than promote on its calendar: the Space City Comic Con.

The cosplay event is poised to attract thousands of sci-fi and comics fans to Houston for Memorial Day weekend and will feature celebs like Charlie Hunnam, from Sons of Anarchy, and William Shatner, the ever-famous Captain Kirk in Star Trek. But earlier this year, the event hit a speed bump when the bureau sued the comic con's founders for trademark infringement saying it owned the rights to “Space City,” and it didn't want the comic con using it.

Even though dozens of businesses across Houston use “Space City” without any problem, the bureau is going after Space City Comic Con, saying it believes that the event's use of the name will cause confusion among convention attendees, leading them to wrongly think the bureau is associated with this event.

Or worse, as the bureau's attorney, Charles Baker, told the Houston Press, what if there is a shooting at that comic con, and then the trademark and the bureau's reputation are irreversibly damaged?

In court Monday, however, U.S. District Judge Nancy Atlas offered a pretty commonsense solution: If the bureau is so worried about being wrongly tied to this popular, celebrity-filled Space City convention that drew 18,000 people last year, then why don't the tickets just have a disclaimer that says, “The convention bureau is in no way affiliated”? And besides, the judge asked Baker at one point, do people even know that the bureau owns this trademark?

“In a way, she was like, why are we wasting our time?” said George Comits, the founder of Space City Comic Con, which will be held at NRG Center. “She understood, basically, that there's a simple question and a simple answer, which I feel is the center of this: Why did we name the convention Space City Comic Con? The answer is, because it's in Houston. That's it.”

Baker told the judge that the disclaimer would not be sufficient and that GHCVB would still be pursuing the case against Comits and his convention. The convention bureau even filed a motion for a temporary restraining order (a hearing that was supposed to take place this morning but was put on hold) to get Comits to purge “Space City” from all of the event's marketing, tickets and merchandise.

But Comits believes that this lawsuit really isn't about the bureau's concern that he will somehow botch its reputation. Instead, he says, the core reason the bureau is going after Space City Comic Con now is that his event competes with Comicpalooza, another comic con event drawing even more people per year — and one that the bureau has a 50 percent financial stake in.

Comits has been running a similar convention since 2012, when the event was called simply “Space City Con”; it was a little more sci-fi-focused and drew about 2,000 people in its first year and 11,000 in its second. He decided to change the name in order to try to expand the event's appeal to more people. He wanted to make it clear that this convention wasn't just about intergalactic sci-fi, that it was also about The Avengers and Batman, which everyone, not just geeks, seems to love, he said.

It wasn't until just after last year's first Space City “Comic” Con that the bureau approached Comits and accused his company of stealing its trademark. And that's why Comits believes that all this hubbub about the trademark infringement is really about not liking the competition (which Baker denied).

Baker told the Press that the convention bureau simply didn't know about the past conventions, and that if it did, it would've filed this suit a long time ago. (That's right, the Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau apparently did not know about a major convention that drew thousands of visitors.) While this Space City dispute isn't necessarily over, for what it's worth, Baker said the bureau was happy to see Comits willing to at least put the disclaimer on all of the event's marking materials.

And Comits was just as thrilled.

“I would actually love to say that we're not associated with them,” he said.

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