12 August 2019
Last week many of us were excited to learn of Franky Zapata’s achievement in crossing the English Channel on a jet-powered flyboard. If you haven’t yet seen footage of the flyboard, click here to watch a full video of it in action. Whilst flyboards have been around for a few years now, this recent breakthough is a standout achievement, as it also involved a mid-air refuelling stage during the cross Channel flight.
The team at Coller IP is frequently sought out to answer questions about innovations. In this case, we wondered: are there any patents behind this fantastic flyboard? The answer is: yes, including US Patent filings US20180208312A1, Systems and Methods for Improved Flight Control, and US20190161188A1, a Device for Propelling a Passenger (an image of which is below – figure 2A).
In fact, there are a range of flyboard patents by Franky Zapata, but this article will focus on the turbojet implementation. The patents also provide for a seated version of the device – i.e. a hoverbike variation (perhaps reminiscent of the Speeder Bike from Star Wars). We expect this version will allow more fuel to be carried, thus enabling longer journeys to be made.
Are there other patents like this? If so, what are they like? In our analysis, we found that most patents in this relatively small sector are currently focussed on propeller technology or use some form of water thrusting. Other jet patents tend to focus on jetpacks where the jets are located on the back of the user. One propeller example is from Canadian company Skykar (US20140097290A1):
Elsewhere, in China, the Jiangsu Digital Eagle Technology Company has developed a “Flying Skateboard” (US10245500) as shown below:
Larger companies have few filings in this sector, with Toyota being an interesting exception (US6969027):
Toyota’s focus on the vertical take-off and landing apparatus (shown above) demonstrates its commercial interest in this sector. It also shows that there is scope for innovation beyond the transport mechanism itself –i.e. a structure that assists flying users to land safely without injuring themselves, as it seems that landing can often be a challenge for such devices.
Returning to intrepid inventor Franky Zapata, he has been actively filing patents for many years, beginning in circa 2012. His first patents related to thrusting a passenger into the air using water (where the water used is below the elevated person). While this is undoubtedly great fun, it is limited by the requirement to use the device over water. Commercially, we note that earlier Zapata inventions have been kept under the control of the ZipH20 and Zapata Holding companies, while his latest patents are filed by ZipAir. This multi-company strategy makes sense as the market for water thrusters is very different from the much wider and more substantial market opportunities presented by the turbojet thruster.
Whether we are looking for a faster way to travel or simply because we want to whiz around as if we are using a hoverboard in Back to the Future II, it is hard not to admire the flyboard. One word of caution though is that just like any technology, it can be used for good or bad. On Bastille Day, Franky Zapata could be seen toting a rifle as he flew around Paris. While on the one hand an agile, hovering soldier could be useful, particularly if you need to enter or exit a conflict zone quickly, the idea of a terrorist or criminal using such technology is concerning. As for the patents, we fully expect that Franky Zapata will continue to develop exciting innovations to create new options for personal transport and look forward to following his work in this area, as well as the work of other innovators in this sector in the coming years.
If you have an IP strategy project that you need expert advice on, speak to a member of our team today. Our experts can provide you with detailed information about any industry (not just relating to flyboards!), as well as your competitors and what they are working on in this area.
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