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Trade Commission Stymies Chinese 'Hoverboard' Imports into USA

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By Jonathan R. Tung, Esq. on March 18, 2016 9:59 AM

Way back in 2014, Segway filed a complaint with the U.S. International Trade Commission, alleging that imported Chinese "hoverboards" violated its patents. Now, that complaint has started to bear fruit. Yesterday, the ITC issued a general exclusion order banning most self-balancing hoverboards from being imported into American borders.

The exclusion order could have far reaching and substantial effects, not least of which is making people look less stupid getting from point A to point B.

General Exclusion Order

The ITC issued its General Exclusion Order against "certain personal transporters" that infringed on US Patent no. 8830048 B2. That's Segway's patent for lateral acceleration of a personal transportation device, based on the instability created by the user. It's essentially the use of acceleration to offset any above lateral instability.

The order has the potential to affect the whole market because the devices were everywhere last year. More importantly, a general exclusion order has the power to even affect importers and distributors who were not originally involved or named in the investigation. And for those of you who don't know, China is one of the biggest makers of hoverboards on the planet. Last year, hoverboards were at the top of every kid's Christmas list.

The complaint by Segway names 13 different companies, several of them Chinese. This means there could be a sudden drop in the supply of these odd looking devices shortly in the future. President Obama will have 60 days to accept the order, but it's predicted that it will slide through.

It's a Damn Shame, Shane

China, a land celebrated for respecting international and intellectual trademark laws, essentially pillaged one of its own. Shane Chen, now an American citizen who owns a workshop in Portland, Oregon holds the patent for what would eventually become the hoverboard. Only, he's made no money from it.

After he made a few thousand, knock-offs from the Middle Kingdom started flooding the market. Makers sprang up everywhere. By the time Chen could even catch his bearings, the problem had gotten so out of hand that he's all but resigned himself to his losses. Some of the knock-off factories even had the chutzpah to thank Chen for inventing the 'hoverboard' and lining their pockets.

As it stands now, only devices by Segway will be allowed into the country. Segway was purchased by Chinese company Ninebot last year.

'Bout Time

If you hadn't quite picked up on the tone, we're not the most enthusiastic supporters of lean-driven-personal-locomotion devices. Today's hoverboards hover about as well as a skateboard. And they don't exactly win awards for safety either. We're still waiting for mass manufacturers to create one with a reasonable chance of not catching fire. Only then will we even begin to warm up to them.

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