There’s a massive problem with their logic, Shihan Qu told an audience, two years ago, about the federal Consumer Product Safety Commission's attempt to ban his product, Zen Magnets. Two days before Thanksgiving, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with Qu and smacked the regulatory agency for improperly assessing the risk of a once-popular, now nearly unavailable, novelty for adults. The court decision vacating the agency's proposed ban highlights how far the CPSC has exceeded its mandate, bullying small business with shoddy regulation.
Zen Magnets is the last of what was once more than a dozen companies selling powerful, ball-bearing-sized magnets. The magnet sets are used like a sort of high-tech modeling clay—with the little balls sticking together magnetically, users can position and arrange them in an infinite variety of shapes.
The CPSC has been out to eliminate these products since 2009, successfully pressuring most businesses making the magnets to voluntarily recall their products. Indeed, the commission had nearly cleared the field after running Craig Zucker's highly successful company Maxfield & Oberton—the maker of Buckyballs and Buckycube—into bankruptcy. The agency had filed a complaint against the company and sued Zucker personally (ending in a settlement with the CPSC for hundreds of thousands of dollars). But Qu refused to bow when the agency, instead of claiming his product was defective or that his company had failed to provide adequate warning of risk, opted for an outright ban.