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There's a battle brewing over one-wheeled skateboards

US Marshals seized a Chinese gadget after being told it was a clone, but the story's a lot more complicated than that.
Daniel Cooper, @danielwcooper
February 16, 2016
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At January's Consumer Electronics Show, US Marshals raided and shut down a booth hawking the Trotter, a one-wheeled electric skateboard. Officials were told that the device violated patents owned by Future Motion, makers of the rival OneWheel self-balancing board. Bloomberg, however, is reporting that Future Motion has now withdrawn its infringement lawsuit against the Trotter. It's suggested that the company mislead the courts about the strength of its patents, tricking authorities into taking out a legitimate rival.

According to the newswire, the Trotter's maker is looking for a cash settlement to recoup its losses from the CES raid. The firm wants $100,000 to cover the loss of business and reputation after it was publicly humiliated at the trade show. In addition, the company is seeking a substantial quantity of legal fees that it's had to incur in order to fight the initial action. Future Motion's representatives told Bloomberg that its case is legitimate, but it simply doesn't have the cash to sustain a war of attrition in the patent courts.

When you've been to a few trade shows, you'll quite frequently spot booths getting raided by authorities for various infringement actions. Robotic vacuum cleaners that are suspiciously close to iRobot's products are a common target, as are companies looking to clone Apple devices. There are plenty of questions left unanswered about what's going to happen now -- but this could have ramifications beyond a couple of companies trying to sell electric skateboards.

Update: Future Motion and its CEO, Kyle Doerkson, responded to our request for comment with the following statements.

Doerkson:

"We would much rather be innovating than litigating. Our California-based team of designers and engineers are focused on delivering great products and experiences. However, we will continue to fully defend our innovations through our intellectual property rights in ways that make strategic sense for our company."

Future Motion:

"After considering the economics of the litigation, Future Motion has voluntarily dismissed its patent infringement lawsuit against Changzhou First International Trading Co. Ltd. ("CZ-First"). Specifically, in view of apparently minimal U.S. sales of the accused CZ-First product, Future Motion determined that the likely costs of continuing litigation would outweigh the potential benefits, and dismissed the action without prejudice. Future Motion will continue to monitor competing products and to enforce its intellectual property rights when necessary."

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