The Endless Patent Battles of Segway

WASHINGTON, DC — September 12, 2016. Segway Inc. of New Hampshire, USA, together with DEKA Products Limited Partnership and Ninebot (Tianjin) Technology Co, on august 16, 2016 requested the US International Trade Commission (USITC) to conduct an investigation under section 337 of the Tariff Act of 1930 into 13 companies from several countries including US, Netherlands, Turkey and China, according to an announcement on usitc.gov. Recently, Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen, South China’s Guangdong Province, banned Segways and self-balancing scooters, commonly referred to as “hoverboards”, from all public roads, bike paths and walkways. It is clear that Chinese manufacturers are now facing new challenges.

As more and more Chinese “hoverboard” manufacturers branching out and making their own products, the number of patent infringement complaints and lawsuits have soared. The patent system is the basis on which many industries are built. It’s a dead rock of pharmaceuticals, biotech, electric vehicles, personal mobility devices or medical devices. Patents are also critical in wireless, networking and technology. In fact, we’ve seen huge movement of patents have becoming even more critical than they were before. Over time businesses discovered, that patents are critical to them. Innovative company needs to protect its innovations. That’s a pretty basic idea.

16,500 people would say that the current patent system is broken. United States Patent and Trademark Office is a government agency and has many of the problems government agencies have; acts slowly and it isn’t always funded very well. In many recent years Congress has diverted funds from it to pay for other things, which prevents the U.S. Patent Office from hiring enough new people to keep up with modern technology. So there is some problems, but there’s more benefit than there are problems.

We can draw an analogy to the stock market. Is the stock market perfect? Of course not. Just as we need to have a liquid market to finance America’s companies, we need to have a patent system to protect inventors. Fundamentally, what’s at stake there, as if you have an innovative company like for example Apple, that develops sophisticated new things as they do for the iPhone. Do they get to enjoy the economic benefits or they get to see somebody else copy all of what they do? It’s a false economy to say that company should focus more on innovating than on protection. The board of directors and shareholders would not let company spend any money on innovation if someone else was going to copy it tomorrow and company get no benefit out of it.

Clearly, one of the most dynamic markets in the world will be personal mobility devices that we use for commuting, entertainment and all broad variety of things. Companies are battling to be the winner who took most there. And they are battling in lots of different ways. One of them happens to be – patents.

segway logo svg

Caption: Segway Logo

For a brief period of time it was possible to be the winner who takes most and achieve a monopoly in your market. Whether you are Segway, Razor or a company like Apple, Google, Cisco,- they all have that property. You can do that without patents. And so they did. Especially this was the case for Segway, which has somehow risen to be the leading brand in the personal transportation vehicles market for a very long time.

Black Ninebot by Segway miniPRO self-balancing scooter

Caption: Segway miniPRO, self-balancing scooter ©Segway, segwayminipro.com

But in the past few years, Segway is discovering that patents are critical business asset. Rideables industry and self-balancing personal mobility vehicles were really immature when it came to patents and patents sophistication. Now companies like Segway or Razor are getting a crash course on patents protection.

About the Author

Josh Logue

A former engineer, technology journalist, inveterate tinkerer and self confessed geek. I also contribute articles and reviews for a number of mainstream consumer technology magazines.