Besides Netflix CEO Reed Hastings, this year’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas featured another eye-catching guest—the US Marshals Service.
A team of US Marshals raided the booth of a Chinese company known as Changzhou First International Trade Co yesterday (January 7), Bloomberg reports. The company was displaying a device it called “the Trotter,” which functions a bit like the popular hoverboards of today, but with a single wheel in the middle of the board to propel itself.
The raid was prompted by Kyle Doerkson, founder and CEO of a company called Future Motion. Doerkson and his legal team say that his company owns the patents for the device, which it calls the Onewheel. On January 5th, Future Motion formally accused Changzhou First of infringing on its intellectual property.
According to Bloomberg, Doerkson first introduced the device at CES in 2014. He raised over $600,000 on Kickstarter for its initial production, and received two patents for it—one that protects its underlying technology, and another for its design, which prevents other companies from selling identical products. The latter was issued on Tuesday, just two days before the Marshals raided Changzhou’s booth.
“When we got word that a company was exhibiting a knock-off product, we engaged in the formal process, which involved sending a cease and desist letter and then getting a restraining order, which was then enforced by the US marshals,” Doerkson told the BBC. In the US, the Marshal Service is typically tasked with catching fugitives and overseeing security in prisons and federal courts, though they also seize “forfeitted assets” (often drugs and firearms) and enforce restraining orders.
On Alibaba, Changzhou First has dozens of listings for a self-balancing vehicle that closely resembles the one Doerkson claimed to invent. The devices sell for $550 apiece.
According to the company’s Alibaba page, Changzhou first is based in Jiangsu Province in China’s northeast. In addition to the scooters, the company also sells mobile phone cases and portable smartphone chargers. The company did not reply to a request for comment sent to its Skype account.
The kerfuffle is quite timely. The hoverboard, one of the hottest consumer electronics products of last year, and clearly kin to the Onewheel, is caught up in a similar cross-border patent dispute that highlights the pitfalls of China’s extraordinarily efficient manufacturing sector.