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A rivalry in a quest to bring illuminated signposts to the real estate industry has shed light on a dispute over the originality of competing designs.

Two separate groups are now working to promote their respective versions of a solar-powered real estate signpost that illuminates for-sale signs at night.

Real-T-Lite Inc. of Largo, Fla., introduced its solar-powered signpost product in 2002, said Tim Howard, vice president of marketing and sales for the company. The product is described at the company’s Web site as a “self-contained, solar-powered real estate sign that illuminates the Realtor’s yard sign at night, thus increasing exposure and drawing eyes to the home for sale during periods of little or no light – when most signs and sales go dark.”

Earlier this year, Louis Dvorak of Lighthouse Marketing in Lauderdale-by-the-Sea, Fla., who was formerly affiliated with Real-T-Lite, announced his solar-powered signpost, which he said was designed by his brother, James. The company in September applied for a patent on the product, but hasn’t yet received one.

Howard, who contacted Inman News last month, stated that Dvorak “did not invent the sign, the industry or the concept” of a solar-powered, lighted real estate signpost. “He has chosen to willfully ignore the terms of his non-disclosure and make public information which is clearly private and germane to the ongoing business activities of Real-T-Lite.”

Dvorak said that the Real-T-Lite sign is “a similar product,” though he said the Lighthouse Marketing sign is different in that it uses smaller post dimensions, and the solar panel and battery technology is also different. He also said that the non-disclosure agreement has been voided.

Eric Christu, legal counsel and officer for Lighthouse Marketing, said, “What we’re doing is a considerably different concept and marketing approach to (Real-T-Lite). I don’t see why they can’t coexist.” He and Dvorak were under the belief that Real-T-Lite was no longer operating, he said. “We kind of thought they were wound up.”

While Dvorak initially told Inman News that the Lighthouse Marketing signs were used in a pilot project through Washington Mutual, those signs were in fact the Real-T-Lite products, according to Real-T-Lite officials. Dvorak now acknowledges that it was the Real-T-Lite product that was used in the Washington Mutual program.

Dvorak parted ways with Real-T-Lite in January 2004, said Howard, though he was never a formal employee of the company. So far, neither group has taken any legal action.

Some signpost prototypes have been designed for Lighthouse Marketing, though the company has not yet mass-produced its signs, Dvorak said. “We are awaiting a sample now,” he said. The product may be manufactured in Taiwan or Hong Kong, he added.

Meanwhile, Real-T-Lite has produced several hundred of its lighted signposts, said Larry Fitzpatrick, an inventor with a background in engineering. Fitzpatrick said that the research and development began on the signpost in 2000. The core of the technology is a solar panel, batteries and light-emitting diodes, he said. “That technology has evolved over the last three years.”

Fitzpatrick decided it was time to provide an alternative to the traditional wooden signpost. “Nobody’s done anything with this old wooden sign,” he said. “We just thought, if you’ve got a relatively expensive piece of property, you ought to have something that’s reflective of that property.”

Under the Real-T-Lite business model, customers can lease the signs, and the rental rate includes coordination in obtaining signage, installation of the signpost at the listed property, e-mail confirmation with a photo of the completed installation, de-installation of the signpost, and an e-mail confirming de-installation.

Lighthouse Marketing has a different marketing approach – they are working to keep the price of the signposts low so that they can sell them to brokerages.

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