Why Is The Federal Government Shutting Down A CES Booth Over A Patent Dispute?

from the how-is-it-their-concern dept

One of the big stories coming out of CES this week is the bizarre situation in which US Marshals showed up here at the event yesterday and completely shut down the booth of a Chinese company, named Changzhou First International Trade Co. This happened after a judge granted a motion for a temporary restraining order, filed by US company Future Motion, following a seven minute hearing about the matter, in which Changzhou was not present and had no say.

To be clear, it does appear that Changzhou is building a knockoff of Future Motion's one wheeled self-balancing scooter thing -- a device that got plenty of attention via a big Kickstarter campaign. And, Future Motion does hold both a patent on a self-balancing skateboard (US Patent 9,101,817) as well as a design patent (US D746,928), which was just granted a few days ago, on a device that obviously looks quite a lot like what both companies are selling:
In other words, there's a fair bit of evidence to support that the patent infringement case is fairly strong. That said, it still seems quite troubling for US Marshals to then get involved and completely shut down Changzhou First International Trade Co.'s booth at CES right in the middle of the show, when the company doesn't get a chance to present to the judge until January 14th, long after CES has packed up and left town.

If there's a legitimate patent infringement case here, as there may well be (even though I'll have some more to say about patents in this space in an upcoming post...), it's still troubling that the company got shut down in the middle of the trade show and that it involved the US government intervening in what is a civil issue. This is certainly not out of the ordinary in general. Part of the job of the US Marshals is to execute seizures related to restraining orders that are ordered by federal courts. But it still seems like pretty massive overkill for a company that's just showing some scooters at a trade show, and where they haven't had a chance to present a defense.

Filed Under: ces, hoverboard, onewheel, patents, retraining order, seizure, us marshals
Companies: changzhou first international trade co., future motion

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  1. identicon
    Andrew D. Todd, 9 Jan 2016 @ 3:17am

    Both Patents Are Fundamentally Invalid.

    Robert Heinlein, in his classic science fiction story, "the roads must roll" (1940), described a gyroscopically-stabilized single-wheel scooter similar to a Segway. Dean Kamen, the developer of the Segway, committed an act of "engineering cowardice" by using two wheels instead of one, failing to go "full Heinlein." A sideways wheel would fall under the KSR v. Teleflex heading of "obvious to try." For that matter, it is immediately obvious to mount the wheel on a rotating fork, similar to the front wheels of motorcycles, bicycles, etc.

    However, it seems, there is also a design patent on the device in the present controversy, and _that_ was improperly granted. The basic configuration of a balancing moving vehicle, that is, the location of hand grips, foot-rests, seats, and wheels is a matter of _physics_, at much the same level as the motion of a dancer's body. It is inherently utilitarian, and therefore not eligible for a design patent. I have looked at the pictures of the respective devices in the Ars Technica article. Both are so minimal in design that there are essentially no non-utilitarian elements. There is no ornamental matter on which a design patent could rest.

    A ballerina "en pointe" is beautiful in approximately the same sense that a suspension bridge is beautiful-- it is inherent in the condition of staying up, with the least possible support, and not going splat. There is a man named Kenneth Laws, retired from Dickinson College in Pennsylvania, who wrote a book about the physics of dance, back in the 1990's.


    The work has been carried on by a man named George Gollin at Illinois:

    http://web.hep.uiuc.edu/home/ g-gollin/

    I remember reading about it about thirty years ago in a summary article about Laws' work in Scientific American's "Amateur Scientist" column. A lot of it involves the dancer moving her arms and legs in such a way as to shift her center of gravity relative to her head and torso (for purposes of jumping, jump in the air, pull the arms and legs up, and then put them down again to land); or changing her moment of rotational inertia (for purposes of spinning, accumulate a lot of rotational momentum with the arms out, at a relatively low rate of spin, then go up on pointe, and pull the arms in to spin fast).

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