The annual CES is packed with sights that are not often seen, and CES 2016 is no exception. The floor of the annual tech show is filled with spectacles such as virtual reality devices, futuristic concept cars and drones, among other things, with exhibitors always looking to upstage their competitors.
However, on Thursday afternoon, a pair of U.S. federal marshals were seen raiding an electric skateboard booth. The marshals packed up one of the one-wheeled skateboards that was on display, along with fliers and signs that promoted the product.
The incident was not one of the usual publicity stunts at the trade show, though Changzhou First International Trade Co., the exhibitor that saw its booth raided, sure wished it was.
Bloomberg reported that until the raid, Changzhou First International Trade was doing well in the day. While it was not the only dealer of electronic skateboards or hoverboards at CES 2016, show attendees were taking notice of its product known as the Trotter. Unlike hoverboards with wheels on either end, the Trotter features a board with one wheel in the middle.
Many Chinese companies have sold products at the CES 2016, with the Consumer Technology Association allowing any company to put up a booth at the show as long as they pay the required fees. However, many companies have expressed disdain over low-cost competitors at CES 2016, as they believe that their trademarks and patents are being violated.
The raid against Changzhou First International Trade was the result of a weeks-long effort made by Future Motion, a startup company that claims to have invented and patented an electric skateboard that looks very similar to the Trotter. Future Motion sent members of its legal team to accompany the marshals in the raid, who served a court order at CES 2016.
A woman at the booth of the Chinese company said that Changzhou First International Trade will be consulting a lawyer. The Consumer Technology Association, meanwhile, refused to issue a comment.
Future Motion's Onewheel skateboard, from which the Trotter is said to be copied from, is the creation of designer Kyle Doerksen. He rented a booth at CES 2014 to show off a prototype of the Onewheel, and a Kickstarter campaign that was launched on the same day of the tech show was able to raise $630,000.
At CES 2015, Doerksen returned with a more finished model. For CES 2016, however, Future Motion decided not to get a booth, but was in Las Vegas to meet up with potential business partners.
Future Motion, which has recently received a second patent for the design of the device, first discovered about Changzhou First International Trade's Trotter late last year when a Onewheel customer alerted the company about the product. The Trotter was listed on the online marketplace of Alibaba, with the price of the electric skateboard at $500. In comparison, the Onewheel carries a price tag of $1,500.
Shawn Kolitch, a lawyer for Future Motion, demanded Changzhou First International Trade to stop selling the Trotter through a letter. The Chinese company did not respond. Kolitch again tried by approaching the booth of Changzhou First International Trade before CES 2016 began, but that was not fruitful as well. By the afternoon of Jan. 6, the company filed for a request with a judge to prevent the display of Trotters.
The booth of Changzhou First International Trade now has all its merchandise and signs taken away. For Doerksen, the shutdown of the booth does not only cut off an illegal competitor to his product, but also protects the reputation of the burgeoning electric skateboard industry.
Electric skateboards and hoverboards reached massive popularity over the recent holiday season, which prompted certain companies to take advantage of the demand. However, some models were of low quality and presented risks of bursting into flames.
"If customers start to view the space as full of low-quality, low-cost products, that reflects poorly on everybody," Doerksen said.
"We hate to see someone poison the well."