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Man suing city for $2.5M, says iconic ‘Toronto’ sign was his idea

Last Updated Apr 4, 2016 at 8:48 pm EDT

A Toronto man is suing the city for stealing his idea for the iconic Toronto sign at Nathan Phillips Square – but the city says the existing sign bears no resemblance to the one he proposed.

Bruce Barrow, a branding consultant, said he came up with the idea for the sign and pitched it to the city in 2013 and 2014 in a confidential business proposal, but he didn’t receive acknowledgement or any compensation for the idea.

The city has responded by saying Barrow’s idea bears no resemblance to the city’s sign.

Barrow’s lawyers filed a statement of claim in Ontario Superior Court, seeking $1.75 million in damages and $750,000 for punitive, aggravated and exemplary damages.

Barrow came up with the idea in 2009, according to his lawyer, John Simpson.

The statement of claim alleges that his concept was a large-scale sign made up of free-standing, three-dimensional block upper-case letters spelling out TORONTO that could be illuminated at night.

“The city’s explanation to date, that by sheer coincidence it came up with exactly the same idea on its own and around the same time that Mr. Barrow shared it with them in confidence, just doesn’t hold water,” Simpson said in a statement in the claim.

Along with the city, Mayor John Tory and councillors Josh Colle and Michael Thompson are named in the suit.

The differences between Barrow’s proposal and the current sign are outlined in the statement of defence and in the chart here and below.

Toronto sign defence

“Toronto gets the credit for the sign,’ Thompson said.

In the city’s statement of defence, the sign was based on similar ones in Amsterdam, New York and Guadalajara.

I Amsterdam sign DIANA PEREIRA/CITYNEWS
I Amsterdam sign DIANA PEREIRA/CITYNEWS

Apparently Barrow met with Coun. Colle in 2013 and in 2014 to present the idea, making it clear that the idea was confidential. Barrow said that he was never told that the city was developing a branding concept similar to his via a third party.

See the presentation Barrow made to Josh Colle here and below.

City Brand

The current sign, based on an idea from a successful bidder on the city’s request for proposals, was circulated among members of the city’s economic development and culture committee three months before they met with Barrow, the city’s defence claim states.

The claim states that Barrow also met with Coun. Thomson, chair of the city’s economic development and culture committee, in 2014. Following the meeting, the claim states that Tory, who was running for mayor at the time, requested more information from Barrow.

Barrow sent the presentation to Tory in an email clearly marked “confidential.”

Tory’s campaign manager, Barry Avrich, apparently then wrote in an email that stated “Thanks for reaching out – agreed – good idea – best pitched once he wins – let’s keep in touch.”

According to the statement of claim, Barrow followed up with Coun. Thompson in Jan. 14, 2015 but did not receive a response.

The current sign was then unveiled in July 2015 during the Pan Am and Parapan Am Games.

Barrow did not get credit for any of it, the claim states.

“This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity with immeasurable value that was denied to the plaintiff as a result of the city’s misappropriation of his proprietary concept,” the statement of claim states.

None of the allegations have been proven in court.

Read the full statement of claim here or below. Read the full statement of defence here or below.

Barrow v. City of Toronto

Statement of Defence FINAL