Friday, September 07, 2007


Four years ago, the Eye's esteemed architecture correspondent, Piloti, used the word "Portakabin" in one of his columns.

We promptly received a letter from one Dick Ellershaw, Trade Marks Officer for Portakabin ltd, upbraiding us for using the word "as a generic term" and suggesting the use of "portable building" or "relocatable building" instead. Our even more esteemed editor ran his letter beneath the headline "What a tragic way to make a living", and headed every other piece of correspondence in the issue "Portakabin".

Two weeks ago I was, as usual, writing up the Solutions column for the magazine. I got to "Kensite Services Ltd: the fullest range of Welfare Solutions" and tapped in next to it "portable toilets."

Then I thought fondly of Dick Ellershaw, deleted it and put in "Portaloos" instead.

And lo, like clockwork, this week a letter arrived at the office:

"Dear Mr Hislop,

I am writing to point out that 'Portaloo' is a registered Trade Mark which may only be used to describe buildings manufactured by this company..."


Anonymous said...

'Portakabin' is owned by the Shepherd Building Group and Shepherd family. Back in 1963 builder Donald Shepherd tried to registed 'Portacabin', spelt with a 'c', but the Trade Mark people would not accept the word 'Portacabin' because it described a household building term at that time being a "portable cabin", the term had come from the prefabricated,'Prefabs' Homes built to house people just after the 2nd. World War. The Shepherd family had been on a Tour of USA and had seen in Houston Texas a large construction company manufacturing portable cabins and modular buildings in a Houston factory since 1958 called, 'Porta-Kamp'. It Looks like they borrowed the idea and name to register the Trade Mark Portakabin in 1963. Five years later than the guys in USA.
Not just being satisfied with 'borrowing' the similar sounding name, they still wanted the word 'PortaCabin', but this has been denied to them now for 45 years by the Trade Marks registry.
So, they are currently chasing every other cabin manufacturer, jounalist and including Google, MSN and Yahoo for the use of the word 'PortaCabin' which is not a trade Mark but they say that it sounds like 'PortaKabin' which is a Trade Mark. Furthermore they list on their website many spelling formats of the word that sounds like 'portakabin' or 'portacabin'. They do really need flushing out, or perhaps flushing down the 'Portaloo'.

J Bonington Jagworth said...

I used the word 'portacabin' in a letter to our local paper, regarding the use of such things as school classrooms (our council is too cheap to pay for real ones) and, of course, he changed it to 'portable buildings'...

I had tried to anticipate this, explaining with the letter that the 'k' version was a trademark, but the 'c' one was generic, but what can you do?

It does raise the question, though, of how you describe them when they really are Portakabins? I'm pretty sure that Mr Shepherd's company does rather well out of our council, so it wouldn't be inaccurate to refer to them by the trade name, in which case they would be suing for a description of their own wares!

chris almond said...

Back in the 80s we had a tool hire shop called Porter Plant Ltd. When we started hiring out portable toilets we called them Porterloos. Woops! cost us £000s. Beware!