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DWP SEEKING LEAF-BLOWER MANUFACTURER BOARD TO SELL DESIGN PATENT.

Byline: Kerry Cavanaugh Staff Writer

Five years, a lawsuit and controversy after introducing a prototype of a battery-powered leaf blower, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power board voted Wednesday to try to sell the patent to a manufacturer for mass production.

DWP officials boast that the blower is a cleaner, quieter alternative to the gasoline-powered blowers the city sought to ban in 1998. The utility is already fielding calls from interested manufacturers, but industry experts said there's still skepticism about its commercial value.

``The Department of Water and Power was promising this thing years ago; now let's see if it works,'' said Larry Rohlfes, assistant executive director of the California Landscape Contractors Association, which has opposed bans on gasoline-powered blowers.

``If it works, then the market will head that way anyway. You won't need a ban, if it's a good blower.''

Air quality regulators and the garden equipment industry have been waiting on the DWP's battery-powered blower, ever since the DWP unveiled - amid much fanfare - a prototype in 1998. While some gardeners considered the model too clumsy for professional use, the DWP awarded a contract to Giltronics and Associates, Inc. to mass-produce the blowers.

But the company couldn't develop a prototype to meet the DWP's specifications. The city ended the contract, the company sued and the two parties settled in 2002.

Now the DWP is offering the patent for sale or license in the hope of earning royalties on sales. The manufacturer will have to reconfigure the blower for mass production and field-test the equipment before it goes to stores. That could take at least a year.

``Based on what we've heard, that people are always complaining about conventional gas-powered blowers, and, with emissions concerns and regulations, there is demand for it,'' said Walter Zeisl, DWP spokesman.

The new model's battery pack needs to be charged for six hours to run for about 45 minutes - an issue for commercial users, as is the cost.

``(The average gardener) may not be able to pay $400 for a leaf blower, not because he doesn't want to but because of the cost he charges the customers and how much they want to pay,'' said Golden State Landscaping Inc. President Barbara Alvarez.

DWP Assistant Manager of Economic Development Lillian Kawasaki said the DWP was hoping to recoup the $1.1 million development cost and satisfy gardeners eager to find a product that will work for them amid the city ban on gasoline-powered blowers.

``Based on the level of interest, we believe we'll have a number of strong proposals,'' she said.

Kerry Cavanaugh, (818) 713-3746

kerry.cavanaugh(at)dailynews.com
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Jul 17, 2003
Words:437
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