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.


2 thoughts on “Big trouble begins for Segway copycats

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  1. Segway, Inc. completed a corporate merger with Chinese company Ninebot earlier this year. Segway, Inc. continues as an independent operation and remains located in Bedford, New Hampshire (USA), where it designs and manufactures all Segway products (including the Segway Personal Transporter, SE-3 Patroller and Robotic Mobility Platforms). This is similar to, say, Audi being an independent operation within the VW Group. Chinese manufacturers had begun making self-balancing devices prior to the Segway-Ninebot merger. Chinese consumers appear to be adopting these one and two-wheeled zero-emission transport solutions with real enthusiasm, which has driven an explosion in brands.

    For more information on the merger see our post:

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