Kathleen McLaughlin
The Bulletin

Bend sex toy creator Lora Haddock thought she’d be going to the CES gadget show in Las Vegas this week as an honoree and exhibitor.

Instead, she’s stealing the spotlight with allegations of gender bias among the show’s organizers, who revoked her company’s Innovation Award and banned it from exhibiting. The Consumer Technology Association, which organizes the massive event, provided contradictory explanations for banning the sex toy, called Osé, Haddock said. After pushing back behind the scenes, Haddock decided to release to media covering CES the entire exchange of emails and letters on the controversy.

The product, developed with help from Oregon State University engineers, is a hands-free device for women. Haddock submitted it for a CES Innovation Award in the robotics and drones category, and it passed muster with an independent panel of judges in October.

Before the awards were announced, however, CES staff said the product couldn’t be exhibited because the show doesn’t have a category for sex toys, emails released by Haddock show. After consulting with Consumer Technology Association executives, CES staff decided to revoke the award, too.

First, CES cited a policy that prohibits “immoral, obscene, indecent, profane” products. Then they sent a letter of apology for the “misunderstanding.”

“The product referenced does not fit into any of our existing product categories and should not have been accepted for the Innovation Awards Program,” a CTA spokeswoman said in an email.

CES banned her product even after allowing such companies as OhMiBo, a past winner in the digital health and fitness product category for its Kegel exerciser and vibrator; Naughty America, which makes virtual reality pornography; and Abyss Creations, maker of a sex robot, Haddock said in an open letter on the company’s website.

Oregon academics and investors have no problem backing Haddock’s company, which is branded Lora DiCarlo.

“This was normal sponsored research at Oregon State University,” said John Parmigiani, research associate professor in mechanical engineering. “It made for a more interesting statement of work than we usually see.”

A U.S. Navy veteran who previously worked in health care, Haddock has lived in Bend for the past two years. She’s lined up $1.1 million from the Bend-based investing fund, Oregon Opportunity Zone Limited Partnership. Her company was recently awarded a $100,000 grant from Business Oregon, she said.

But having the Innovation Award yanked was a blow to her women-led engineering team, Haddock explained in her letter to Consumer Technology Association executives. And it posed a huge problem for her as a startup founder, having told potential investors about the award.

Parmigiani said he was impressed with Haddock when they met through Oregon State’s business accelerator program. “She came with a list of 52 requirements for this device,” he said. “And actual measurements she had taken from a population of women. And it was a very well-posed mechanical engineering problem.”

Oregon State finished its work on the project in late summer, and Haddock proceeded to hire engineering graduates who previously worked in his lab, Parmigiani said.

The six-person engineering team works in Corvallis, while Haddock and her marketing team are in Bend.

The sex toy was Parmigiani’s first venture into consumer products, but he wants to do more. “I’m shifting the focus of my lab to do more consumer products and work with more startups.”

Oregon State was so proud to have backed a CES Innovation honoree that the university placed a congratulatory ad in the Consumer Technology Association’s magazine, according to Kenneth Bass, general counsel for Haddock’s company.

— Reporter: 541-617-7860, kmclaughlin@bendbulletin.com