If something becomes too popular, patents are of no use in stopping cheap knockoffs being made in China, says the inventor of the hoverboard.
Four years ago, Shane Chen made and patented the original hoverboard, which he called the hovertrax. The two-wheeled toy took some time to gain traction in the market place, until last year when sales for his invention went through the roof.
Only problem is, they weren’t his sales.
“It’s like a tsunami. Legal or illegal, they’re just going to do it. It’s like drugs, marijuana,” said the inventor who left China to live in the U.S. three decades ago.
Watch this video made by Guardian Science and Tech about Chen, his hoverboard, and some of his other inventions such as the Solowheel:
Chen’s hovertrax was on sale for around $1,000. The lower quality knockoffs — which also get called self-balancing, two-wheeled scooters — cost much less to make, and were subsequently cheaper for consumers to buy. Many of the cheap copies were also unsafe, which eventually put a dampener on sales.
But, in the U.S. Chen saw big retailers selling the knockoffs, in effect aiding the counterfeiters.
“It is very discouraging. The patent system is not working if something is popular. With something like Hovertrax, the patent is almost useless. We only made maybe a few thousand. I got a report that there are over 11,000 factories making them in China. They made more than a million,” Chen said
Just before Christmas, Chen even made a trip to China to see what he could do to address the counterfeiting.
“I visited some of the knockoff factories. They actually thanked me for having the imagination to invent it,” he said. “They understand they’ve infringed my patent, but they know there’s nothing I can do.”
Watch this China Uncensored video, which shows a list of the top ten Chinese knockoffs of foreign products: