If you were one of the many to receive a hoverboard, the hot gift this holiday season, you may have received a futuristic sounding safety hazard. Hoverboards have come under fire (in some cases literally) for not meeting safety requirements and for infringing trademarks.
A hoverboard is a small board balanced on two wheels that the rider controls by shifting his weight. Some can go up to 10 to 12 miles an hour, making them very popular with teens. The issue, however, is with the batteries and chargers. Many users reported their boards catching fire, either while they were riding them or while they were being charged. The chargers don’t shut off automatically, leading to battery malfunctions including fire and even explosions.
Aside from safety concerns these malfunctioning batteries were improperly marked with Underwriters Laboratories’ logos. UL denies ever evaluating the Swagway boards. Swagway never otherwise third party certified the boards for safety, although Swagway claims they were “in discussions” with UL prior to distribution. Some hoverboards have allegedly also been marked with the Samsung logo without authorization.
Unauthorized logos violate trademark law in a very basic way: playing on the strength of the associated brands to mislead consumers. Swagway’s use of the marks deceive the consumers; when they see that the board was certified by UL or the batteries were made by Samsung, they trust that the board will be safe, because the hard-earned reputation of those brands are imputed by consumers to the hoverboards. In addition to having a negative impact on the UL and Samsung brands, they are profiting on the brands’ goodwill.
Once the consumers realize the boards are unsafe, they will blame the companies who certified them for safety. Riding on another’s goodwill and taking unfair business advantage of company reputation are two of the more important purposes of trademark law. As a result, over 16,000 of the Swagway-brand boards have been seized by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers in Chicago, and it looks as though more will be seized as officers discover them.
Consumers should be able to trust products from the brands they love, and if true, the allegations against Swagway violate the rights of these trademark owners.