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Trademark battle brews over public toilet dispute

When it comes to trademark law, almost everything that has been trademarked could be copied. This includes devices that people might consider mundane or even impolite to bring up in mixed company -- toilets, for example. 

However, the Portland Loo is no ordinary toilet. The public restrooms are meant to be durable, stand-alone facilities that incorporate safety and top technology. The restroom has slats built into the top and bottom of the structure so that police can verify how many people are inside. The surfaces of the restrooms are resistant to graffiti; also, hand-washing stations are on the exterior of the facility in order to encourage people to finish quickly.

All of these unique features led to the city of Portland obtaining a trademark on its unique product. To date, the city has sold several of its Loos to other cities, including San Diego, California. The city charges other cities $90,000 per restroom.

Recently, the city of Cincinnati notified Portland that a private company, Romtec, was offering cities a nearly identical product -- one that it calls the Sidewalk Restroom. Romtec's version is sold at a considerably lower price but features much of the same features and technology as the Portland Loo.

As a result, Portland filed a lawsuit in federal court alleging trademark infringement. The city wants the company to destroy any existing Sidewalk Restrooms and the company to give the city its profits from selling the restrooms.

Any responsible business owner needs to properly defend its trademarks -- sometimes with the assistance of an experienced trademark law attorney.

Source: The Seattle Times, "Portland raises stink about toilet ‘knockoff’," Aug. 24, 2013

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