Hoverboards are making headlines, from bursting into flames and being banned by online retailers to causing trouble in churches and supermarkets. But the hoverboard hubbub at CES in Las Vegas Thursday was something straight out of a corporate espionage movie: Per Bloomberg, US marshals raided a booth set up by Chinese company Changzhou First International Trade. It was promoting its Trotter electronic skateboard—what Bloomberg describes as looking "like a seesaw with one big wheel in the middle." The problem: Silicon Valley startup Future Motion says the product is a knockoff of its own Onewheel skateboard, invented and designed by Kyle Doerksen. "When we got word that a company was exhibiting a knock-off product, we engaged in the formal process, which involved sending a cease and desist letter and ... getting a restraining order ... then enforced by the US marshals," Doerksen tells the BBC.
The marshals who swept into the booth scooped up a Trotter, plus marketing material. A quick visual comparison of Future Motion's product and those hawked by Changzhou on Alibaba does show a marked similarity. But while Future Motion sells its version for $1,500, the knockoffs are going for around $550 each—which Doerksen says is bad news for not only his company, but the hoverboard/electric skateboard industry overall. "If customers start to view the space as full of low-quality, low-cost products, that reflects poorly on everybody," he tells Bloomberg. Future Motion, which the business site notes started the patent process for parts of its Onewheel years ago, didn't set up a booth at the consumer electronics forum this year, but Doerksen was in town meeting with possible partners. (Even Wiz Khalifa has had hoverboard issues.)