As we've previously noted, intellectual property infringement is something of an issue in China. Whatever the underlying reasons might be, the proliferation of counterfeit goods is a problem for manufacturers concerned with losing market share to knockoff copies of their products. Innovators both in the US and abroad have to be vigilant of possible infringement, and willing to take action to stop copycats. One California startup did just that.
The company Future Motion had filed suit against Changzhou First International Trade Co. for two counts of patent infringement. Future Motion alleges that Changzhou stole the disign of its "Onewheel" hoverboard, which features a single wheel centrally located, with two platforms for standing on either side. According to Ars Technica, Future Motion filed their suit January 5 in Las Vegas. Future Mation then had a hearing over the telephone the next day, a hearing that lasted all of seven minutes before US District Judge Miranda Du issued an order for Changzhou's products to be seized and their sales stopped.
This order led to the scene at the Consumer Electronics Show of U.S. Marshals raiding the Changzhou booth, seizing the scooters they had on display and disassembling the booth itself. There may be further action taken against the Chinese company as well; the BBC quotes Future Motion's attorney, Shawn Kalich as saying that "(p)unitive measures could include a permanent injunction preventing Changzhou from selling the product in the US, monetary damages including lost profits we can prove due to infringing sales, and even attorney's fees if the court decides it's an exceptionally egregious case of wilful patent infringement."
Future Motion was able to get the Onewheel started with a crowdfunding campaign that raised over $630,000, and began selling their product in December 2014 at a retail price of $1,499. But Changzhou's alleged knockoff threatens to undercut Onewheel's market, selling for almost one-third the price on the onlie retail giant Alibaba.
It should be noted that Changzhou have not had the opportunity to reply to thses charges, and that these charges og infringement are yet to be proven definitively in court. However, given how easy it can be to have your idea stolen from a crowdfunding campaign, it's natural to wonder if any alleged infringement may have stemmed from having product photos and information online for any to see. As always, it remains crucial for crowdfunders to take the necessary precautions to prevent their ideas from being stolen when launching an online campaing, as Future Motion has.