Ripping off a great idea that is well-protected by patents is a risky business practice.
China-based copycat companies have been blatantly stealing the technologies found inside Segway Personal Transporters (PTs) for several years. This week Segway Group hit back.
The US International Trade Commission (ITC) has struck a serious blow against China-based makers and US-based importers of copies/clones of Segway Personal Transporter-style devices, and against makers of many other types of self-balancing devices.
Thirteen companies singled out by Segway, Inc. have been dealt what probably amounts to a death blow.
But as Engadget explains, the ITC has also issued a powerful ‘general exclusion order’ that empowers US Customs to stop any “personal transporter” that infringes upon Patent No. 8830048 (one of Segway’s many, many patents) at the border, no matter what country it comes from.
According to Technews “Segway’s patent suit will probably ban hoverboard imports forever” and at the very least will have far-reaching consequences. This is because the patent extends to all kinds of self-balancing devices, even those without handlebars such as hoverboards. Indeed, in this patent’s section entitled ‘Detailed Description of Specific Embodiments’ it describes devices with as few as one wheel. Thus, it would also appear to capture all ‘Electric Unicycle’ designs as well (for example, those currently being sold in New Zealand under brands such as Airwheel, Glideboard, Skywalker, Solowheel, etc):
Different numbers of wheels or other ground-contacting members may advantageously be used in various embodiments of the invention as particularly suited to varying applications. Thus, within the scope of the present invention, the number of ground-contacting members may be any number equal to, or greater than, one.
Segway, Inc.’s own press release about the ITC’s ruling can be found here.
More information about the lead-up to this outcome can be found in our article Big trouble begins for Segway copycats, and in several earlier articles linked therein.
Obviously, sales and exports of US-built Segway Personal Transporters are unaffected. Imports from China into USA of Segway miniPRO and Ninebot brand devices are also unaffected, as Ninebot is a subsidiary of Segway Group.
What this ruling means for American owners of infringing brands is that whatever after-sales support that may have existed could shortly very well dry up altogether.
Anyone in New Zealand considering buying a brand of self-balancing device singled out in the ITC’s ruling – FreeGo, Robstep, EcoBoomer, INMOTION, Roboscooter (sold in NZ as the Rooder/Chariot) – or in fact any brand of self-balancing device at all, might care to think through to the logical conclusions about what happens next in markets outside USA…
Our article about Segway patent protection in New Zealand can be found here.