The growing category of toy blasters that fire projectile rounds made of super absorbent polymer (essentially, gel) is in the crosshairs yet again. Following months of headlines regarding consumer misuse of toy water bead blasters leading to scuffles with law enforcement, a new conflict has emerged over patented technology that may power some of the blasters.
This week, the U.S. International Trade Commission (USITC) voted to institute an investigation of “certain soft projectile launching devices, components thereof, ammunition, and products containing same.”
The investigation is the result of a joint complaint filed by Hasbro and Spin Master on July 21, 2022, alleging violations of section 337 of the Tariff Act of 1930 regarding the import and sale of soft projectile launching devices and accessories. Supplements to the original complaint were added on July 29 and Aug. 3, prompting the formal investigation.
In the USITC’s Notice of Institution of Investigation, several respondents are named, including:
- Shenzhen Yi Jin Electronics Science of Shenzhen City, Guangdong Province, China;
- Guangdong Yu Lee Technology Corporation of Dongguan City, Guangdong Province, China;
- Yu Lee Company Ltd. of Tsuen Wan, Hong Kong;
- Gel Blaster, Inc. f/k/a Gel Blaster, LLC, Austin, Texas;
- S-Beam Precision Products Ltd. of Zhongshan City, Guangdong Province, China;
- Splat-R-Ball, LLC, of Rogers, Arkansas;
- Daisy Manufacturing Company of Rogers, Arkansas;
- Prime Time Toys Ltd. of Kwun Tong, Hong Kong;
- Prime Time Toys LLC of Pompton Lakes, New Jersey; and
- Easebon Services Ltd. of Kwun Tong, Hong Kong.
The investigation will look into any potential infringements on nearly decade-old patents from The Maya Group — U.S. Patent No. 8,371,282 and U.S. Patent No. 8,640,683 — for a “Super Absorbent Polymer Projectile Launching Device.” The patent application process dates back to 2010 and was granted in 2013.
At the time, The Maya Group was developing polymer blasters under its Hobbeezone division that eventually hit the market around 2012 under the Xploderz brand. Super absorbent polymer was also the main focus of Maya Group’s signature Orbeez brand, which was acquired alongside “other select brands” by Spin Master in 2019.
While Spin Master does not currently produce blasters itself, Hasbro’s recent announcement of its entry into the gel category with the NERF Pro GelFire Mythic Full Auto Blaster highlighted “patented innovations” that are “exclusive to NERF.” Those patents, as noted by Bloomberg Law, are licensed to Hasbro by Spin Master.
Although the category of polymer blasters didn’t catch on in the U.S. a decade ago, it began to make waves in South Asia, Australia, and New Zealand around 2018. In the U.S., companies such as Gel Blaster and SplatRball launched in 2020, followed by Anstoy and Gel Storm. Prime Time Toys — manufacturer of Dart Zone — launched its own brand, Hydro Strike, this spring. Additional polymer bead-launching products from a host of manufacturers have been hitting the market with increasing frequency in recent months.
The USITC says that it will “make a final determination in the investigation at the earliest practicable time.”