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Code Blue Corp. claims Valcom Inc. is violating its trademark by planning a round phone tower design.
Saturday, July 27, 2013
A federal judge in Roanoke will referee a dispute involving two companies that make emergency phone towers commonly found on college campuses.
Roanoke County-based Valcom Inc., which produces a wide variety of communications equipment, has worked to develop a phone tower since late last year.
Company officials erected a mock-up of their tower on a 9-foot-high pedestal at a recent trade show hosted by the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators in Louisville, Ky.
A short time later, Valcom received a letter from Code Blue Corp., a longtime Michigan manufacturer of emergency call towers.
Code Blue told Valcom to drop its project. It’s not that Code Blue feels Valcom shouldn’t be allowed to offer an emergency phone tower. Code Blue said it is concerned about what shape it will be. Code Blue claims dominance over round pedestals in the emergency phone tower industry.
But Valcom plans for its tower to be round, too. It sued Code Blue earlier this week in U.S. District Court in Roanoke and seeks permission to use a round pole if it wants.
Valcom says it that it was “surprised to learn that Code Blue was claiming exclusive rights of the cylindrical shape of, essentially, a pole,” according to the lawsuit.
But in its warning letter to Valcom, which is attached to the suit, Code Blue said it has used a distinctive round post for years, citing a 1997 trademark registration with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office for a “cylindrically shaped integrated security station that houses a telephone, lighting, strobe lighting and closed circuit camera.”
If Valcom introduces a round emergency phone tower, it will cause “widespread confusion among the consuming public,” Code Blue told Valcom, including a photo of the Valcom mock-up on display at the trade show.
In its court challenge, Valcom plans to raise a legal doctrine that prohibits companies from trademarking a product’s functional features. Because Code Blue’s own website touts the round shape as “aerodynamic” to withstand bad weather and also attractive, Valcom contends that the roundness is a functional trait — and not protectable with a trademark.
Valcom asked a judge to cancel Code Blue’s trademark and rule that Valcom would not be infringing to introduce a round or roundish emergency phone tower of its own.
Emergency phone towers are valuable, said Craig Harris, chief of police at Virginia Western Community College in Roanoke, where there are eight. Harris isn’t concerned about the shape. Those at Virginia Western are square, red and made by Talk-A-Phone, an Illinois manufacturer the college has used for years.
“So far it’s been terrific for us,” Harris said. “Students have to know where they can go if something’s going wrong.”
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