Gadget lovers have been treated to some interesting spectacles at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this week, but one exhibition booth Thursday was drawing a lot of attention for all the wrong reasons.
Federal law enforcement officials raided a Chinese hoverboard-maker's booth on Thursday afternoon after an American company filed a patent infringement claim against it. A crowd gathered as two U.S. marshals confiscated the company's one-wheeled, self-balancing skateboard called the Trotter. Witnesses say staffers for the company, Changzhou First International Trade Co., looked stunned as the agents took down their signs, seized all of the merchandise within the booth and carted it all away.
The raid, a first of its kind within the clone-culture of CES, came just days after Silicon Valley startup Future Motion filed for an emergency motion for injunctive relief. The company, which makes a similar board that balances on a single wheel called the Onewheel, says it invented the self-balancing scooter that is says operates like a Segway or hoverboard, but with half the wheels.
Future Motion's Onewheel skateboard was successfully Kickstarted in 2014, and has been on display at CES for two years. The company alleges Changzhou First's "Trotter" or "Surfing Electric Scooter," as it's called on the company's website, blatantly and deliberately copies the look and function of the Onewheel.
"Knocking off an invention that is patented and carefully quality-controlled is a disservice and unsafe to consumers," said Kyle Doerksen, CEO, Inventor and Chief Engineer, Future Motion.
Prior to the filing the lawsuit this week, attorneys for Future Motion say they sent a demand letter in December to the defendant demanding that they stop selling the product in the U.S. and that they withdraw it from exhibition at CES.
"The letter was received by the company but we did not receive a response," said Shawn Kolitch, Intellectual Property Attorney with Kolisch Hartwell, P.C. "The reason we decided not to take court action until Tuesday, January 5th is that that day, Future Motion's U.S. design patent issued," Kolitch said.
The court has scheduled an in-person follow-up hearing for next Thursday, Jan. 14 in Las Vegas. The defendant then has an opportunity to appear with council and defend itself against Future Motion's allegations.
There have been several reports in recent months about cheap, low-quality hoverboards catching fire, exploding and injuring people. The Trotter can be found on Alibaba for about $550. Onewheel retails for about $1,500 on the manufacturer's website.
NBC News contacted Changzhou First International Trade Co. for comment but the company had not responded by the time of this post.