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/ WBRC Team Reimagines Bramhall Square

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The neighbors of Bramhall Square, a tiny public space in Portland, Maine, believe this 3,400 SF, steeply-sloped parcel is not living up to its potential. So late last year, local and regional groups banned together to sponsor an Ideas Competition inviting design professionals to re-envision Bramhall Square.

Thirteen designs were presented at a public forum in January. WBRC Architects Engineers’ solution was deemed the winner, with a close second by Terrence J. DeWan Associates. Several other entries received the judges’ accolades.

WBRC’s proposed design, created by an in-house team that included architecture and landscape architecture professionals, mitigates multiple site issues while creating an attractive, pedestrian-friendly gathering place serving multiple generations year-round.

Contest judges commented that WBRC’s winning design “handled the complexity of the site extremely well — including safe buffering of the heavily trafficked intersection, storm-water run-off and use of vegetation, and creative platforms for multi-generational users at various times of day and play.”

Created by the confluence of Bramhall Street, Congress Street and Deering Avenue, Bramhall Square sits atop one of the highest hills in Portland on a steeply-sloped triangular parcel, making its development complex and potentially costly. In coming up with the proposed design, the WBRC team focused on devising a solution that would be inspiring and engaging, yet also be accessible, buildable, and sustainable.

WBRC’s design divides Bramhall Square into three levels, with grade changes held in place by stepped seating and raised planting beds. The south end features a covered bus stop facing Congress Street. A play area with whimsical pods is at the north end and includes permanent seating and raised gardens. The central area accommodates pedestrian through-traffic while providing shaded space for additional activities and seating. Ground level lighting and fun free-standing light bars are also part of the design concept, making Bramhall Square inviting even after the sun goes down. The grading concept is designed to mitigate storm-water run-off while simultaneously creating three small outdoor “rooms” where people can rest, gather, and play.

The Court further explained its rationale in stating that allowing a good faith belief in invalidity to be a defense to infringement would undermine the statutory presumption that a patent is valid. Because of the presumption, a plaintiff does not have to prove its patent is valid. The defendant must prove invalidity by clear and convincing evidence. If the defendant could defend against infringement simply by showing a belief in invalidity, then that would weaken the presumption of validity by lowering the burden of proof needed to overcome it.

The Court noted that accused infringers can assert invalidity as an affirmative defense or as a counterclaim. They can also challenge a patent’s validity in a declaratory judgment action in federal court or in an inter parties review proceeding before the Patent Trial and Appeal Board.

Another rationale raised by the Court was the procedural difficulty and burden of litigating a defense of a belief in invalidity. Defendants would be incentivized to allege a belief in invalidity, which would be easier to prove than noninfringement. Moreover, patent infringement cases would become much more complex as juries might have to decide the defense of the defendant’s good faith belief in invalidity and the defense of actual invalidity.

In concluding, the Court took a shot at patent trolls (now referred to as non-practicing entities) and prodded the district courts to more aggressively stop them, stating:

“The Court is well aware that an ‘industry has developed in which firms use patents not as a basis for producing and selling goods, but, instead, primarily for obtaining licensing fees.’ . . . Some companies may use patents as a sword to go after defendants for money, even when their claims are frivolous. . . .

[I]t is still necessary and proper to stress that district courts have the authority and responsibility to ensure frivolous cases are dissuaded. If frivolous cases are filed in federal court, it is within the power of the court to sanction attorneys for bringing such suits. . . . It is also within the district court’s discretion to award attorney’s fees to prevailing parties in ‘exceptional cases.’

The Court’s decision is not new ground – it just restates existing law: you cannot avoid liability for inducing infringement on the grounds that you thought the patent was invalid.

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8. Among the musicians who created tunes for the series: George Clinton, Todd Rundgren, Devo co-founder Mark Mothersbaugh, Oscar-nominated composer and Oingo Bongo lead singer Danny Elfman, and Dweezil Zappa.

9. Pee-wee's Playhouse won 22 Daytime Emmy Awards. For its first season, the series won an Emmy for Outstanding Hairstyling, thanks in part to future hairstylist of the stars Sally Hershberger. Hershberger, most famous for creating Meg Ryan's signature shag 'do, was also once the most expensive stylist in New York City, charging $600 for a cut.

10. Because of the 1988 Writers Guild of America strike, Season 3 consists of just two episodes plus a primetime Christmas special that included guest appearances by Oprah Winfrey, Magic Johnson, Cher, Little Richard, Joan Rivers, Dinah Shore, Whoopi Goldberg, Zsa Zsa Gabor, k.d. lang, and Annette Funicello.

11. In her book Inside Pee-wee's Playhouse: The Untold, Unauthorized, and Unpredictable Story of a Pop Phenomenon , author Caseen Gaines writes that Reubens had once planned a Pee-wee special called Pee-wee's Playhouse Goes Hawaiian , which would have featured Charo.

[Related: From Pee-wee to Mr. T: The 12 Weirdest Holiday Specials We've Ever Seen ]

12. Another Playhouse episode idea that was tossed out, according to Gaines's book: a riff on The Patty Duke Show , with Pee-wee hanging out with his lookalike country cousin. The episode would have been a part of the show's fourth season, but Reubens, by then exhausted from a schedule that he said ensured he could never have a personal life or get enough sleep, thought it would be too exhausting to film.

13. Pee-wee's Playhouse had some very talented production assistants, including Boyz n the Hood director (and Oscar nominee) John Singleton, and heavy metal rocker and filmmaker Rob Zombie.

14. In the series finale, "Playhouse for Sale," the secret word was "word."

View photos
Phil Hartman as Captain Carl and Paul Reubens as Pee-wee Herman

15. Like most popular animated kids shows of the day, Playhouse spawned several lines of tie-in merchandise, including a talking Pee-wee doll that sold more than a million units, Pee-wee party supplies, Pee-wee jeans and sweaters at JCPenney, bed sheets, lunchboxes, Topps trading cards, Pee-wee costumes, a full-sized Chairry, and a Pee-wee's Playhouse playset that was so realistic Reubens used one to block episodes for Seasons 4 and 5.

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