Toy war breaks out over 'hot' car
It is already being tipped as one of the 'must-haves' for this Christmas: a motorised toy car that zips along the floor in pursuit of a beam of light that is projected by a gun-shaped, hand-held infrared controller.
While it won't land on the shelves of retail giants in the US including Toys 'R' Us, Wal-Mart, and Target until later this summer, a February review on CNN.com says the car is 'pegged to be the hottest toy of the year by some industry experts'.
But months before Santa's sleigh is loaded and the stockings are stuffed, Hong Kong's High Court is being asked to determine who has been naughty and who has been nice when it comes to ownership of the technology behind the toy.
Shenzhen-based inventor Jannick Simeray, who first applied to patent the infrared-control technology in the United States and other countries starting in 2003, is being sued by two privately owned Hong Kong toy companies who say they are now the rightful owners of the patent rights. The companies, Go Wireless and Thinkway International, say Simeray licensed them rights to use the patent via a series of deals over the past five years.
Simeray, an ebullient Frenchman and an engineer by training, has counter-claimed, alleging those deals are no longer valid. He accuses Go Wireless and its main shareholder, his estranged business partner Michael Sivan, of unjustly profiting from his invention by continuing to license out the patent rights.
Go Wireless and Thinkway's lawsuit says Simeray's protests represent 'unlawful interference' in their business.
At stake are billions of Hong Kong dollars in annual toy sales, and millions in royalties payable to the rightful owner of the patent to the infrared control technology - whoever the court determines that to be.
Simeray has identified several toys that he says appear to be using the patented technology he invented.
Thinkway Toys, owned by Hong Kong businessman Albert Chan Wai-tai, is already marketing its much anticipated 'Lazer Stunt Chaser,' which was the subject of the glowing review on CNN.com. Controlled by an infrared-light beam, the toy car is capable of jumping through hoops and driving upside down on a double-loop track that resembles stunts performed by some roller coasters.
The Lazer Stunt Chaser retails for US$39.99 on the ToysRus.com website, which is taking pre-orders on some models that are not scheduled to ship until late August.
Another toy car that relies on the same technology is the 'Zero Gravity Laser,' marketed by Toronto-based toy company Spin Master. In addition to following the infrared light beam across the floor, this car features separate vacuum-based technology that allows it to drive up walls and even across ceilings.
In court last week, Simeray said the royalties on the patent use paid by Spin Master to a Cyprus-based unit of Go Wireless added up to about US$800,000.
He said he had received almost nothing from those payments. Go Wireless 'hasn't paid the royalties in years,' he told the court.
The value, in US dollars, of China's toy exports last year
More than 80 per cent of toys sold around the world came from China