U.S. Marshals raided a booth at CES belonging to a company advertising its hoverboards. Apparently, an American company funded by a kickstarter campaign had called the federal Marshals on the Chinese company for attempting to sell hoverboards with an identical design.
The U.S. Marshals approached the booth of the Chinese company and confiscated all the marketing material, including the models of the hoverboard on display, promotional signage, and flyers.
Two U.S. Marshals turned up at the booth of Changzhou First International Trade Co. in the Las Vegas Convention Center. After a brief discussion with the booth’s managers, the Marshals proceeded to seize all the contents, leaving the company’s employees flummoxed and unsure what to do next. Incidentally, the raid might have been the culmination of an effort by competitor Future Motion, who accuses Changzhou of infringement on the design of a self-balancing electric skateboard for which Future Motion holds patents relating to both technology and design, reported Digital Trends.
According to Bloomberg, Future Motion and Changzhou both took a similar approach in design, and each sells a skateboard that essentially looks like a “seesaw with a wheel in the middle.” The design is remarkably simple to look at but is quite complex to design and implement in a vehicle that has to reliably offer self-balancing features with a single wheel.
While Future Motion’s product is called Onewheel, Changzhou First International Trade prefers to call its product Trotter. Both are electric skateboards that feature an interesting single-wheel design. The wheel, located at the center, imparts not just forward and backward motion, but also allows the rider to take turns by virtue of its design. Despite featuring a single wheel, the OneWheel costs $1,500, whereas the Trotter is priced competitively at $500.
Kyle Doerksen, the creator of the Onewheel, claims he made several attempts prior to the booth raid to get Changzhou First International Trade to cease and desist, reports Mashable. However, as with the case of such attempts to stop Chinese companies from making cheap knockoffs, all the calls fell on deaf years, he shared. Doerksen added that his company’s legal action isn’t just a show of power to ensure knockoffs don’t undercut his business. He insists the raid might help in protecting the electric skateboard industry’s reputation and send a message that quality (and safety) matters.
“If customers start to view the space as full of low-quality, low-cost products, that reflects poorly on everybody.”
What Doerksen is worried about is the negative publicity these two-wheeled electric skateboards, better known as hoverboards, have been getting. Numerous reports indicate quite a few hoverboards have caught fire and gutted homes. There have been increasing concerns about the safety. Even the airlines banned these hoverboards, stating they were a fire hazard.
As sales of the hoverboards peaked during the holidays, many eager customers found, to their dismay, that their brand new personal electric skateboards were actually cheap knockoffs with spurious quality batteries inside.
First Motion isn’t the first company to take legal action against patent-infringing electric rideables. Razor, another popular maker of hoverboards, sued Swagway for patent infringement in December. Similarly, personal mobility veteran Segway had sued Inventist in September of last year for pretty much the same reason.
Up until the raid by U.S. Marshals, Changzhou First International Trade was doing quite well. Despite their extremely limited fluency in the English language, the company’s representatives were quite busy, reported the Irish Times.
Incidentally, CES doesn’t have any mechanism to weed out companies that are suspected of selling knockoffs. As long as the companies are willing to pay for the booth, they are welcome to showcase their products in one of the largest consumer electronics shows.
[Photo by Future Motion]