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Ritz Hotel of France Battles Iowan over Toilet Name

December 3, 1989

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) _ A man named Ritzer would naturally be nicknamed Ritz, and would be likely to give his nickname to something he invented. So argues Tom Ritzer, who invented a potty training toilet seat and called it the Rit-Z.

But the people who guard the reputation of the famed Ritz Hotel in Paris think Ritzer is trying to use their name without permission.

The hotel people asked the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to order Ritzer to stop using their name.

″It’s been one nightmare after another,″ said Ritzer, 48, of Arnolds Park, in northwestern Iowa. ″I think what’s really happening here is that the big Ritz Hotel in France is trying to put a hurtin’ on the little Iowa toilet seat company.″

But Ritz president Frank Klein, who flew to New York to testify in the case in October, said Ritzer represents a genuine threat.

″The Ritz Hotel in Paris stands for privacy, for perfection, for discretion,″ he testified. ″The Ritz had such a reputation for over the last 80 years that whatever we do ... whatever is matched with our name, has to be in a perfect way.″

Thus, he said, Nabisco Foods paid the Ritz for use of its name on Ritz crackers.

Klein said Ritzer deliberately cloned his hotel’s name for the toilet seat.

″Why does the man put the name Ritz on it? Because he needs us as a signature. That’s what he has done, the man is not stupid. What else could work better than the name Ritz?″ Klein testified.

The trouble began two years ago when Ritzer applied for a patent and trademark on his invention. The patent was granted but the Ritz Hotel filed formal opposition to the name Rit-Z after one of its attorneys noticed the request in a routine review of trademark applications.

Lawyers on both sides said they don’t expect a decision for several months.

Ritzer said the name came naturally and has nothing to do with the hotel.

Ritz, he said, is ″the nickname everybody in the Ritzer family has had for generations and I put it on the toilet seat because it’s short and easy to remember and because it’s kind of an attention-getter.″

″We never even gave a thought to the idea that someone might confuse our name and toilet seat with the Ritz Hotel.″

Ritzer gave his reply testimony last week in the office of his Des Moines lawyer, Edmund Sease.

Ritzer, who operated a plumbing business in Arnolds Park for 25 years, explained that his family had trouble toilet training a daughter in the 1960s.

She was afraid of the big toilet seat ″because she was afraid she’d fall in or somebody would flush it while she was up there,″ he said. ″I got to thinking there just has to be a better way to combine the ideas of toilet seats and toilets and potty chairs to make it easier for the little kids.″

So he made a toilet seat with an extra ring that could be pulled down to accommodate infants’ smaller bottoms. Other people wanted one, so four years ago, he said, he sold the plumbing business to his son and started the three- employee toilet seat business.

The double-ring seat has been marketed to hardware stores and children’s furniture stores. The Ritzers say they have sold between 3,000 and 4,000 in the last 18 months.

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