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WowWee Group Limited, an Optimal Group Inc. (NASDAQ: OPMR), is a Hong Kong-based company that focuses on "breakthrough consumer technologies". They are best known for their biomorphic robot RoboSapien.
"The WowWee group of companies maintains operations in Hong Kong, Carlsbad (California), Montreal (Canada), New York (New York), and Wauthier-Braine (Belgium)."
Initially from Canada, the two founding brothers (Richard and Peter Yanofsky) moved to Hong Kong to form the company in 1982 as an independent research & development and manufacturing outfit. As an OEM seller, they produced products such as the Power Rangers Power Gloves and the Talking Tots dolls. In 1987 the company changed focus, building and marketing toys under their own brand in response to a fall in OEM orders. They produced a number of new products, including a robotic dog (MegaByte), T-Rex, and the Animaltronics and Dinotronics lines of remote control animals. In 1998 the company was purchased by Hasbro.
Shortly before the Hasbro sale, Peter Yanofsky reportedly caught physicist/roboticist Mark Tilden on the Discovery Channel, and soon hired him as a consultant. Initially Tilden worked part-time with WowWee while he continued his work with the Los Alamos National Laboratory, but in 2001 Tilden joined the company full-time. One of his first products with WowWee was the B.I.O. Bug, released in 2001. Unfortunately, while sales were good they weren't as strong as either WowWee or Hasbro would have liked. In part this has been attributed to the after-effects of 9/11 and the anthrax attacks, while Tilden has also expressed disappointment with some of the limitations placed on the product design by Hasbro. After moving to WowWee full-time in 2001, Tilden focused his attention on developing Robosapien.
While Tilden was developing Robosapien, Hasbro canceled the project several times, leading Yanofsky to negotiate out of the contract in 2003. Robosapien was released in 2004, and over 1.5 million were reportedly sold in the first 5 months of sale. Robosapien was the first commercially available biomorphic robot, and the first to integrate personality-like features. Tilden continued to develop the line with the Robosapien V2 (released in 2005), which added functionality like speech capability; RS Media™ robot (released in 2006), which included user-created functions, and Roboreptile (also in 2006) . The Roboquad a four-wheeled robot (released in 2007); the RS Tri-Bot, a three-wheeled robot (released in summer 2008)RS Media (2006) and the Roboquad (2007). the Joebot and the Roborover (both released in 2009) expanded on the concept of robots with personality.
In 2007, working with inventor Sean Frawley, WowWee released the FlyTech Dragonfly – a remote control flying ornithopter. The Dragonfly was named as one of the inventions of the year by Time in 2007. The success of the Dragonfly led to other flying toys, such as the Bladestar (a remote controlled helicopter) and the Butterfly (a wind-up ornithopter aimed at younger children). The FlyTech Bladestar was awarded an “Editor’s Choice Award 2008” by Popular Mechanics magazine as a technologically advanced innovation.
On September 27, 2007, the publicly traded Optimal Group announced they had entered into a purchase agreement to acquire WowWee Ltd, which they completed in November of that year.
On November 23, 2010, Engadget revealed that WowWee and a number of retailers are being sued for trademark infringement by Gibson Guitar Corporation for unlawfully using the shapes of the bodies and headstocks of Gibson's signature guitars in their Paper Jamz line of toy guitars. WowWee has denied any wrongdoing and has asserted that the shapes Gibson claims as trademarks are generic and therefore cannot function as trademarks. On November 24, 2010, the court denied Gibson's request for a temporary restraining order, but on December 22, 2010, granted Gibson's motion for a preliminary injunction. The case was later settled, with WowWee paying Gibson an undisclosed amount for licensing the likeness of Gibson guitars, according to Gibson CEO, Henry Juszkiewicz.
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