The ongoing saga of the hoverboard has taken another swivel.
Today (Mar. 17) the US International Trade Commission has called for a ban on all hoverboard imports to the country which infringe on patents of Segway, creator of the original T-barred self-balancing scooter.
The ITC’s public notice states that it has issued a General Exclusion Order that forces all devices that violate Segway’s intellectual property be blocked by US customs.
Previous crackdowns on hoverboard imports and sales were enforced by the Consumer Product Safety Commission, a branch of the government that oversees safety. The division demanded that all retailers refrain from selling the two-wheeled vehicles unless they comply with UL 2272, a newly-released safety certification specifically for the hoverboard. No hoverboard has received the safety certification to date. It also worked with US Customs and Border Patrol to seize hoverboards found to contain batteries or parts that are inconsistent with other safety standards.
But patents are a different issue than safety. The hoverboard has been embroiled in a bitter patent dispute since early last year. Shane Chen, a Seattle-based engineer, claims to be the originator of the hoverboard’s intellectual property rights in the United States. In September of last year, he was sued by Ninebot—the Chinese owner of Segway and its patents. Chen later sold his patents to Razor, the major American toy company—thus pitting two giants in the mobility industry against one another.
When Amazon issued its first major crackdown on hoverboard sales in December, it said any hoverboard vendor wishing to list on the site had to provide a letter from a lawyer promising it would not infringe on the patents owned by Razor. In the absence of official court rulings, such an order appeared to bode well for Razor in the ongoing patent dispute. The ITC’s notice indicates otherwise.
Ultimately, the ITC’s ruling will only make it more difficult for consumers to purchase hoverboards. That’s bad news for kids looking to show off a new toy to their friends. But it’s even worse news for the legions of hoverboard sellers and factories in China, who continue to suffer plummeting sales.