7:56pm PT by Eriq Gardner
Segway vs. Inventist: The Patent Battle Marty McFly Missed in 2015
The year is 2015. Marty McFly travels to the "future." There, he beholds the power of the hoverboard.
Thanks in part to a famous scene in Back to the Future II, hands-free scooters have become all the rage among celebrities like Jamie Foxx, Justin Bieber, Kendall Jenner, Wiz Khalifa and others. Of course, now there's a big patent fight on hand over these personal transporters. One McFly didn't stick around long enough to see.
On Friday, Segway Inc. filed a lawsuit against Inventist, Inc for allegedly infringing five patents to build the Solowheel and Hovertrax. According to the defendant, the lawsuit marks retaliation for a lawsuit against Segway filed in China as well as a cease-and-desist sent in America.
Segway is notorious in business schools. In 2001, inventor Dean Kamen created great buzz for a secret project nicknamed "It." Before anybody knew what it was, Steve Jobs and Jeff Bezos were gushing about it. Eventually, with media speculation in overdrive, the invention of a two-wheeled, self-balancing personal vehicle was revealed. With expectations set so high, it was doomed to disappoint.
Not so fast.
Remove the clunky top portion (as Marty McFly did), ignore the wheels and the Segway kind of looks like a hoverboard. Others have seen the similarities. Segway may be stumbling into market thanks to newfound interest in Back to the Future II.
Except now there are competitors.
Inventist was founded by Shane Chen and raised funds through Kickstarter. The company's personal scooters are beginning to become popular. Chris Brown was spotted riding a Hovertrax at this year's Cannes Film Festival. Chen has also reportedly partnered with Mark Cuban. The company isn't shy about making a connection to a certain film. "If you ever saw Marty McFly on his Hoverboard in Back to the Future, and thought WOW – that look’s fun, then you are going love the new Hovertrax," says Inventist's marketing literature.
According to Segway's lawsuit, however, Inventist's products are violating patents on a personal transporter with a balance monitor. The complaint is below.
Chen has his own patent, and he has likewise gone to court. In June, Chen sued the Soibatian Corporation, makers of the IO Hawk. There's been talk of more lawsuits to come. He's sued Ninebot, a company affiliated with Segway in China, and tells us that the defendant "is notorious for illegally manufacturing knock off products," adding there's prior art. A company spokesperson says, "Self balancing technology has been around for years and was invented by Japanese professor Kazuo Yamafuji in 1987... 12 years before Segway’s patent.”
Perhaps the lesson here is that Marty McFly should have put down Grays Sports Almanac and instead grabbed a patent application to bring home with him. If he had done so, the future — or present — would look much different.