The hoverboard’s popularity might have waned a little over the years, but the buzz around its design and production reached a frenzy status in 2015.
Hoverboards were so trendy that many celebrities like Jamie Foxx and Justin Bieber hopped on the train to also push it to mainstream acceptance.
However, there have been several questions in the past as to who really the inventor of the hoverboard is. That question comes with a bit of confusion. More so, if one looks deeper at the history of patent complaints, court suing, amongst other controversies that have surrounded the evolution and expulsion of the device.
The Hendo hoverboard’s invention, for example, has been credited to Greg Henderson and his wife, Jill. They had been in a Kickstarter video in 2014 that featured stuntman Garrett Foshay, who also happened to be the company’s engineer.
However, Shane Chen has been credited to be the inventor of the first-ever hoverboard with Hovertrax whose patent he filed in 2013, and his invention worked.
Who Is Shane Chen?
Shane Chen is a Chinese-American entrepreneur and inventor who was born in Beijing. He also grew up in Beijing, attending the Beijing Agricultural University to bag a degree in Agricultural Meteorology.
He, however, moved to the United States in the 1980s in a bid to position himself in the U.S free market space as opposed to his country of birth.
Shane Chen started his own business in view of his academic background as a scientific instrument designer. He founded the CID Bioscience. His intention was to go into instruments design and create designs that would be useful for agricultural research.
Some of the instruments he designed include a plant canopy analyzer, a leaf scanner, and a couple of other things. He also attempted different transportation designs, working at inventing products like the unicycles and electric skateboards.
In 2003, he developed a hydrofoil watercraft that is human powered. It’s called the AquaSkipper. He founded Inventist Inc., where he prides in coming up with crazy ideas with his team.
Even though he is well known and respected for his inventions, he still works on developing several other versions of the hoverboard. The hoverboard products have found a market over the years — although controlled now — and Shane looks to continue to exploit that positively.
Features Of The Hoverboard
- Hoverbaords are self-balancing and always on two-wheels.
- They are handy, portable devices.
- A typical hoverboard has a battery compartment which drives the device.
- It has a logic board where the entire function of the device operates from.
- It has a pressure pad where a rider’s feet stand on.
- Advanced make ups have remote controls.
Making The Hoverboard
Hoverboard is not a trademark name that came to represent an invention. It has always low-key been part of our pop culture — thanks to MK Joseph and Hollywood.
M.K Joseph had first used the term in his science fiction novel, The Hole in the Zero, and further popularized in the movie, Back to the Future, which was released in 1989.
When Chen invented the hoverboard, he admitted the motivation was to use it as an indoor toy – as he calls it in one of his press interviews.
There has been widespread virtual criticism to why the name hoverboard has been adopted since they device doesn’t really hover. Hoverboard is just a loose term to define the device which perhaps qualifies more as a scooter; a self-balancing one.
In fact, the patent explanation of his invention has been that the hoverboard is a “two-wheel, self-balancing vehicle with independently movable foot placement sections.” It is the two-wheel device that was meant to be for indoor purposes.
However, Chen invented another hoverboard that was one-wheeled. This was meant to serve as the outdoor device.
Chen argues that the motivation for the one-wheeler was to solve the challenge for people who would rather prefer to walk from their home than use a public transport, or perhaps those whose last stop is somewhat a walking distance but with a lift home.
He called the one-wheeler “Solo wheel” and sold thousands of its unit. He won several awards for this invention. He also made a hoverboard-hybrid called the IOTA trax.
The IOTA trax is a single-wheeled device that is driven and capable of traveling at 10 mph. This device is meant to work regardless of where you are; inside or out. That’s why it is a hybrid of the initial two.
Now, before the hoverboard became popular, there was the Hovertrax hoverboard prototype that was called the “The Purple Board”. It was a failure. But that prototype served as the springboard for the hoverboard experiment as it is used today.
Chen had cheekily talked about how Thomas Edison must have felt after the number of times he failed during his power invention. He had referenced the people’s attitude to his invention with how Edison’s also was initially welcomed by people.
What Chen did was also to put the wheels outside the board rather than just beneath the rider’s feet. This design change made it possible to ride both on the inside and outside without any negative consequence.
It was at this point that Hovertrax became a reality and the first hoverboard device was pitched to the public. This was in 2013, and by 2014, the patent for the Hovertrax was granted to Shane Chen.
To this end, Chen’s company, Inventist Inc., then had the right to that specific design of the hoverboard. Since then, there has been an influx and several shades of his design, more like copycats. This has morphed into a difficult situation that has also left Chen making not much money from his invention.
The copycat versions of his work became way cheaper and they also triggered safety concerns, as many of the devices were mass recalled in 2015 for consumer protection reasons. A lot of them caught fire and users were at risk of injuries and more.
These copycat versions were mainly manufactured in China, and in a press interview with The Guardian, he met with some of the industry folks who sympathized with him but didn’t offer concrete pledge to stop it. In fact, they didn’t care much because they knew there was nothing he could do about it.
The Chinese hoverboard market has become so huge that by 2015, hoverboards manufacturing had become the center piece of Shenzhen economic drives. The battle of false, low-cost, little value device is still being fought till today between his company and many others.
Patent Infringement Wars
The story of the hoverboard has been dogged with patent infringement wars and court sues over accusations of patent infringement or poorly made prototype of the inventions.
The hoverboard has also brought with its invention different suits for and against Chen’s Inventist Inc. For example, in a patent complaint filed against Inventist Inc., on 09/11/2015, Segway Inc., DEKA Products Limited Partnership, and Ninebot (Tianjin) Technology Co., Ltd., alleged an infringement on their patent rights to Segway.
The Segway, like the hoverboard, is also an electric vehicle that is two-wheeled. While its design is not entirely the same with hoverboards in feature, it is hard not to see points of similarities.
Segway in its filed complaints sought for attorney fees, damages, and a permanent injunction that would permanently prevent Inventist from producing or selling more products that infringe on any of their own products.
It was quite muddy as that unfolded because Inventist itself had sued some products and companies who had imitated its hoverboard device based on its own patent filing, too.
The case, however, showed the weak patent laws in the US, and how complicated the limit and language of invention can be.
Shane had claimed the US patent is broken, since he was at the receiving end of the proliferation of alternative (read, counterfeit), poorly imitated hoverboard devices on the street.
Shane Chen had tearily walked out of the Consumer Technology Association, CES fair when he saw exhibits of works showcased and were rip-offs of his hoverboard invention.
Also, the billionaire Mark Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks, had approached Chen to cash on the growing hoverboard market and needed to exclusively buy the rights to Shane’s patent license. He had signed a letter of intent to that effect which he later gave up on as he was planning at that time to also file a patent on a possible new hoverboard.
Clearly, the world has come to that acceptance that the hoverboard is fast becoming an important public transporter and Shane Chen is credibly the inventor.
There have been copycat versions of his work, but that no longer casts a doubt about his role and place, even despite the court cases and more.
Cementing his name as a credible inventor might be Chen’s lifelong pursuit and burden of proof, especially through multiple other inventions that could perhaps lead the world closer to her real taste of the hoverboards that can truly hover.
If there is anyone who can bring that to reality, perhaps your bet will be on Shane Chen.