At this year’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, a small group of tech journalists and spectators were treated to a bit of drama on the showroom floor, witnessing the raid of a Chinese hoverboard booth by U.S. Marshals. In what seemed like the blink of an eye, a group of Marshals stormed the Sands Expo Center to enforce a court order secured by the California startup Future Motion, which claimed Changzhou First International Trade Co. violated two of its hoverboard patents.
Now, however, in a surprising turn of events, Future Motion has decided to withdraw its lawsuit, citing a desire to be “innovating instead of litigating.” Thing is, Changzhou isn’t going away quietly.
At first glance, Changzhou’s hoverboard (dubbed the Trotter) looks wildly similar to Future Motion’s popular OneWheel (pictured above). Each boasts one giant wheel in the center of a board with a spot for a foot on either side of the wheel. To many navigating the busy hallways of CES 2016, Changzhou’s Trotter was actually mistaken for the OneWheel — a design which Future Motion had already patented prior to the show. The other patent, one which concerns how the OneWheel differs from other hoverboards, was also allegedly violated (according to Future Motion), prompting a swift visit to a judge capable of issuing a temporary restraining order.
At the time of Future Motion’s filing, the company decided to initiate an “ex parte” proceeding (meaning the presence of both parties was not required) in federal court. It took the judge just seven minutes before a TRO was issued, prompting the U.S. Marshals to immediately storm the CES showroom floor and shut down Changzhou’s operation. As one would reasonably expect, this extremely peeved Changzhou, which felt cheated out of an opportunity to present at CES, so the company immediately called mega law firm Merchant & Gould and lawyered up. Future Motion may have fired the initial salvo, but Changzhou was ready for the fight; a fight that, in the end, wouldn’t happen (for the most part).
“After considering the economics of the litigation, Future Motion has voluntarily dismissed its patent infringement lawsuit against Changzhou First International Trade Co.,” OneWheel tells Ars Technica. “In view of apparently minimal U.S. sales of the accused CZ-First product, Future Motion determined that the likely costs of continuing litigation would outweigh the potential benefits.”
So while Future Motion ditched the lawsuit, Changzhou fired back and filed a motion of its own which seeks to obtain the attorney fees expended during the controversy. Changzhou argues that it did not violate any patents filed by Future Motion and maintains that Future Motion initially filed the lawsuit to gain notoriety and raise money. Above those claims, however, Changzhou felt more damaged by the fact it wasn’t allowed to continue participating in CES, an event it felt was perfect for advancing awareness of its own product and its sales.
“[CES] was a major opportunity for Changzhou to promote sales of its Trotter product,” the lawsuit contends. “Instead, FM [Future Motion] orchestrated an effort to obtain a baseless TRO and to effect seizure of Changzhou’s products from CES. These acts caused Changzhou to lose sales and suffer public embarrassment at a critical juncture in marketing its new Trotter product.”
The lawyer continues by stating that Future Motion shouldn’t be allowed to “slink away unnoticed with no repercussions,” and asked for $100k in damages (along with attorney’s fees) to atone for the alleged lost sales and damage to its reputation. The company also wants Future Motion to issue an official press release in which it admits to dropping the case against Changzhou. Future Motion has yet to make any move regarding the recent motion but has until Monday, February 22 to do so.
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