Archive for September, 2015

Big trouble begins for Segway copycats

Over the past decade Segway New Zealand has issued numerous cautions against importing and selling products that likely infringe “Segway” patents.

Some cautions have been public via this site or during media interviews, others have formed part of private conversations with businesses and individuals contemplating such activities. Additionally, Segway technologies and patents have been the topic of many guest lectures given by managing director Philip Bendall. Audiences have been fascinated to learn about the many configurations of self-balancing machines that have been envisaged and patented.

According to author Eugene Hertzberg in his book “Exclusive Rights, Issues In Intellectual Property Law” (2011), inventor Dean Kamen holds at least 45 US patents, 21 foreign patents (including in New Zealand), as well as at least 15 trademarks for Segway-related inventions and properties. Accordingly, the situation is that infringers knew, or should have known, that the Segway was well-protected in law against copycats looking to steal and profit from the original ideas and years of hard work invested by others.

Some drawings from early

Some drawings from early “Human Transporter” patents, with the earliest from 1994.

Kamen filed his first patent for a “Human Transporter” in 1994, and the first patent specific to the configuration we recognise today as a “Segway” was filed in 1999.

Many additional patents followed, and Kamen went on to receive protection not only for particular gyroscopic and balancing technologies, but also the general operation of a user leaning to move and turn a device. Kamen took care that none of his technologies had previously been developed by properly incorporating the expired and valid referenced patents into the new patent applications, ensuring their eventual approval. By referencing his existing patents, Kamen insured that his patents covered both the base technology and improvements. By controlling a large and broad number of patents, the technology behind the Segway Personal Transporter is tightly controlled.

Some drawings from patents filed from 1999 onwards

Some drawings from various “Segway” patents since 1999, covering a wide range of configurations and methods of controlling the device during operation.

Not only is Kamen is a widely acclaimed entrepreneur and inventor with more than 440 patents to his name, but his company DEKA and Segway, Inc. are known to be well-funded organisations with the experience to mount a sustained effort to defend their patents.

Our last story updated various legal actions happening now against parties infringing Segway intellectual properties. The newest action was first reported last week in The Hollywood Reporter, a day before Segway’s own press release on this matter. Their story revealed a claim had been filed against Inventist, Inc. for wilful violation of several “Segway” patents in its Solowheel and Hovertrax self-balancing personal transportation products.

Segway Personal Transporter vs Solowheel and Hovertrax

Segway Personal Transporter vs Solowheel and Hovertrax

Similar, copycat-type electric unicycle and “hoverboard”products are being made by numerous China-based manufacturers. Some of these are being brought into New Zealand by local importers and retailed here. Examples include Airwheel Chick-Robot S2, Earthwheel, Sunwheel, ezi-Rider, Veloboard, Glideboard, IO Hawk, Phunkeeduck.

New Zealand importers and sellers of products that likely infringe Segway’s patents would do well to take notice of this latest legal development because they may be found liable for their own actions in the future. Last week Rod Keller (President, Segway, Inc.) issued a very clear warning to infringers in a media release, saying:

“We took the decisive step of filing this lawsuit, with the support of DEKA, to protect our products against infringement and copying, as well as to send a clear message that companies will be held accountable if they breach Segway patents,” said Rod Keller, President, Segway. “The strategic combination of Ninebot and Segway earlier this year enabled a renewed focus on intelligent hardware development. However, as we evolve, it’s imperative that we aggressively defend our fundamental patents.”

According to The Verge this lawsuit “…pays special attention to US Patent 6,302,230, which covers the Segway’s unique method of transportation, “particularly to balancing vehicles and methods for transporting individuals over ground having a surface that may be irregular.” According to the complaint, “Inventist has knowledge of the ‘230 patent or has acted with willful blindness to its existence.”

Against this background of actions underway against patent infringers, Kiwis considering purchasing a self-balancing personal transportation product might want to question if repairs or service will actually be available in the future.

Segway New Zealand began selling Segway Personal Transporters almost 13 years ago. We continue to support and repair even these earliest models. We have batteries, parts and accessories all available and in stock. In fact, to our knowledge almost every Segway PT we’ve ever sold since 2003 is still operational and being put to good use around the country. And if not, it can be repaired right here in our Auckland workshop, or serviced and supported in the field by our nationwide dealer network (BodyElectric in Wellington, Urban Wheels in Christchurch, Segway On Q in Queenstown).

Today, all new Segway PTs are sold with 24 month warranties, reflecting the high quality of components used to build every well-finished machine.

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Segway sues Hovertrax and Solowheel maker Inventist for patent infringement

On Friday, September 11, 2015, Segway Inc., DEKA Limited Partnership and Ninebot (Tianjin) Technology Co., Ltd. filed a Complaint for Patent Infringement in the United States District Court for the District of Delaware against Inventist, Inc.

It is Segway’s understanding that Inventist is in the business of designing and manufacturing products such as personal transporter devices; namely, the Solowheel Classic, Solowheel Extreme, Solowheel Orbit and Hovertrax products. The Complaint alleges that Inventist is infringing several of DEKA’s patents, which are licensed to Segway and Ninebot.

Media inquiries can be directed to media@segway.com

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This is the second action initiated by Segway, Inc. over the last 12 months to protect its intellectual properties.

Last year the US International Trade Commission launch an investigation into patent infringement by several China-based manufacturers of self-balancing devices. The various US-based importers and sellers of those products are also part of this investigation, which is currently ongoing.

These legal actions are reminders that great risk lays ahead for those who import products into New Zealand that infringe Segway patents.

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Is BB-8 from new Star Wars really a bit like a Segway?

Iconic Star Wars robots R2D2 and C3PO are joined by self-balancing robo-ball droid BB-8 in the upcoming movie The Force Awakens.

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But is BB-8 really “a bit like a Segway” as a headline-hungry news media seem keen to claim? In link-bait laden articles these days it seems everything is a Segway even when it is not.

Unlike just about every other latest thing said to be the freshly spawned love-child of a Segway and a whatever, BB-8 is indeed more than just a little like a Segway Personal Transporter (PT) – and here’s why.

Looking back to one of the original patents that underpin the Segway PT there’s an illustration of a variant that rides on a “uniball” just as BB-8 does. This uniball version of what would soon be christened the Segway PT is just one of numerous illustrated variants. In addition to the standard Segway PT configuration of two non-tandem wheels and a handlebar, there are handlebar-less variations similar to products now becoming known as ‘hover boards’ (i.e. Hovertrax, Veloboard, Glideboard, etc), and also single wheeled electric unicycles (i.e. SoloWheel, Ninebot One, Airwheel, etc).

Excerpts from one of Dean Kamen's original patents underpinning the Segway PT showing uniball and one-wheeled variants, and describing uses ranging from transporting people to educational toys.

Excerpts from one of Dean Kamen’s original patents underpinning the Segway PT showing uniball and one-wheeled variants, and describing intended uses ranging from transporting people to small educational toys.

Intended uses for the variants described in the patent range from transporting people to scaled-down educational toys. Last year, Segway, Inc. and DEKA Research pursued legal action through the International Trace Commission against a group of Chinese patent infringers (Ninebot, FreeGo, EcoBoomer, RobStep). While the corporate merger of Segway and Ninebot brought an end to the action against Ninebot, action continues against other infringers, and if successful it is likely newer infringers such as Airwheel will be next on Segway, Inc.’s hit list.

Back to Star Wars: today you can buy Sphereo’s BB-8: Hands on the best Start Wars toy ever (be sure to check out the video in this link). This is a real-life, smartphone controlled rolling ball robot complete with a “head” on top that stays in place as the spherical body rolls around the room – just like BB-8 in the upcoming movie. WIRED has an article about how the physics of this toy works.

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Spereo was not the first Segway-inspire kids toy. Here’s a very rare, seldom seen brochure for the very first: the P-BOT by Robosapien-maker WowWee, never quite made it to market release. While P-BOT was supposed to be short for P.E.A.B.O.T, maybe that ‘pee-bot’ name was a poor choice in the sensitive US marketplace?

P-Bot

In any case, P-BOT did use officially licensed SmartMotion technology from Segway, Inc. More recently, a number of other self-balancing toys have gone on sale, including MiP and the awesome MiPosaur (what kid wouldn’t want a self-balancing wheeled dinosaur!) from WowWee, and the flexible, build-your-own Lego Mindstorm kit.

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Nor is Spereo the first remote controlled rolling-ball. Our favourite predecessor is the somewhat evil-looking, all-seeing-eye security droid called a GroundBot by Rotundas. We featured this device in our original “A bit like a Segway” article.

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Bolt from blue boosts views

Like a bolt out of the blue, Segway NZ News was visited (>150) and viewed (>250) about four times more than usual a couple of days ago.

That “bolt” was of course Usain Bolt – the world’s fastest man – who was accidentally knocked over when a cameraman riding a self-balancing scooter snagged a wheel and fell down.

Bolt out of the blue

Widely reported in the news media to be a Segway Personal Transporter (PT), the machine that toppled the top sprinter was in fact a simple, Chinese-made copycat machine that lacks the full redundant safety systems built into every genuine Segway PT. Only the Segway PT has two batteries, two controller boards, double-wound motors (essentially two independent motors inside one motor casing), and a package of multiple balance sensors and accelerometers to keep the rider upright and safe. Should a component suddenly fail, the Segway PT maintains the ability to properly balance, the rider retains full control until the machine elegantly slows to a stop, allowing the opportunity to step off. No other brand of self-balancing personal transporter offers this. This is the difference that makes the Segway PT the only self-balancing personal transportation device safe and suitable for use by individuals and commercial users in New Zealand.

Here at Segway New Zealand we believe this level of safety is vitally important. Should a self-balancing machine ever lose the ability to maintain balance then a fall will happen without warning and all control will be lost in an instant. The rider will have no opportunity to take remedial action.

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Back to Bolt: Segway New Zealand contacted all of the major news agencies in New Zealand as soon as we identified “the scooter that beat Bolt” was not a product manufactured by Segway, Inc. One visible difference is how the wheels are attached with five studs, whereas a genuine Segway PT’s uses three studs. All major New Zealand media received our notification (together with supportive photographic proof) by 9am NZ-time on the day the story broke. We had hoped the various newspapers would update and correct their online articles, and that television news shows would begin correctly reporting the facts. Alas, not a single organisation could be bothered.

Perhaps it isn’t really news unless they can say “Segway” in the headline? Ironically, the original NZ Herald story never used the word Segway (instead referring to the device only as a “scooter”) yet a couple of hours after we sent our notification this paper it published a side-bar story entitled “A Short History of Segway Attacks.” Sigh….

Never let the facts get in the way of good headline, huh?

And so is was that Segway NZ News achieved one of its highest-ever views in a day. As Oscar Wilde famously said: “The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about.”

Fortunately, Usain Bolt was unhurt and laughed it off in a press conference, jokingly suggesting his rival had paid off the cameraman to “…take him out but make it look like an accident.”

Here in New Zealand television and film cameramen have been using locally modified hands-free Segway PTs since 2004 without incident. On average, these half-dozen setups are used several times a week all around the country at a wide range of televised sports matches and commercial shoots. Perhaps most famously they deliver smooth and elegant footage at rugby games, as reported in our popular post Rugby: Segway was the winner on the day.

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