Segway Patent Complaint Could Result In Import Ban On Most “Hoverboard” Scooters

Long before “hoverboard” scooters were catching fire in America’s living rooms, the Segway personal transport was the pricey, bulky self-balancing butt of jokes. But Segway may have the last laugh, after the U.S. International Trade Commission has moved to bar the import of hoverboards that allegedly infringe on Segway patents.

Starting in 2014, Segway filed complaints with the ITC, accusing more than a dozen scooter-making companies of infringing on their patents. A number of these companies failed to respond to ITC investigators’ inquiries, or did not comply fully, so Segway sought a summary declaration in its favor. In the meantime, one of the alleged infringers, Ninebot Inc., acquired Segway.

Yesterday, the ITC announced [PDF] that it was general exclusion order (GEO) “barring the unlicensed entry of certain personal transporters” that infringe on one of the Segway patents, and a limited exclusion order (LEO) “prohibiting the unlicensed entry of infringing personal transporters, components thereof, and manuals therefor manufactured abroad by or on behalf of certain respondents that are covered by one or more asserted U.S. patents and copyright.”

The “certain respondents” referred to in the LEO are UPTECH, U.P. Technology, U.P. Robotics, FreeGo China, EcoBoomer, and Roboscooters.

But more problematic for the entire hoverboard industry is the GEO, which bars the importing of devices infringing on the Segway patent for “Control of a personal transporter based on user position.”

That patent may cover a lot of the same technology currently used in many hoverboard scooters, notes Ars Technica. So if the president signs the GEO, it would likely mean fewer hoverboards available in the U.S.

Ninebot-made or licensed hoverboards would be fine, since the company acquired the patent when it purchased Segway in 2015.

Of course, the devices aren’t readily available at retail right now, with Amazon, Target, Toys R Us, and others pulling them from sale after the Consumer Product Safety Commission declared that the boards must meet new safety standards.