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Palm-leaf fans stir up lawsuit


© St. Petersburg Times,
published July 2, 2001

Only God can make a palm tree, to paraphrase the old Arbor Day poem. But should only one company be allowed to turn palm fronds into fan blades?

Fanimation Design & Manufacturing Inc. says so. The Indiana company is suing Dan's Fan City Inc. of Oldsmar, a former customer, for importing a palm-leaf fan blade that it calls an inferior knockoff of its own. It is suing Dan's Fan's Taiwanese exporter as well.

Dwight Lueck, an Indianapolis attorney representing Dan's Fan City, says the suit is nothing more than hot air. Fanimation's ads place palm-leaf fan blades in the Victorian era and in plantation houses in the East and West Indies, he says. And none of its patent or trademark applications has been approved so far.

"The original palm leaf fan blade is probably interred in an Egyptian tomb," Lueck wrote the court.

As ceiling fans go, the palm-leaf models attract a premium price. Fanimation's basic model, the Islander, sells for $469 at the Electric Service Co. in St. Petersburg. The Palm Breeze, Dan's Fan City's base model, costs $460.

Fanimation is seeking to recover lost sales, triple damages, attorney's fees and an injunction on Dan's Fan imports.

Whoever wins, consumers may be better off buying a ceiling fan with wood or plastic blades.

Electric Service Co. co-owner Alan Elston calls the frond fans "more of a novelty than an air-mover."

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