Seagate goes after solid-state drive maker

If you can’t compete, litigate. That seems to be a common mode of operation in the IT industry, and the latest company to embrace it is Seagate Technologies. The New York Times reports that the world’s number-one hard drive manufacturer has filed a lawsuit against STEC, a solid-state drive maker, alleging that the firm violates four Seagate patents. Those patents are related to the way "solid-state drive technology interacts with computers, for purposes like error correction," the Times explains.

According to Seagate CEO William D. Watkins, STEC’s purported patent infringement is "not a big financial issue yet because the [solid-state drive] market is just taking off." However, he goes on to say, "That’s why we want to set things straight now." Seagate isn’t looking to put STEC out of business—rather, the New York Times quotes Watkins as saying the hard drive maker wishes to "promote the kind of cross-licensing and partnerships that have always been part of the hard-drive market."

Meanwhile, STEC’s VP of Marketing and Business Development, Patrick Wilkison, claims Seagate clearly feels threatened by the rising popularity of SSDs, which have begun showing up in notebooks from Apple, Asus, Dell, Lenovo, and others. Wilkison believes Seagate is "defending its turf" via this lawsuit.

Comments closed
    • ludi
    • 12 years ago

    USPN 6,404,647 (priority date: Aug 2000)

    Could be bad news. It basically describes a form-factor equivalent disk drive replacement using non-volatile memory, without requiring a back-up battery or any of the other methods of RAM-disking with volatile memory that were used in the 1980s and early 1990s. It basically anticipates the use of a technology like NAND Flash to achieve non-volatile disk storage with a slap-in replacement device. Since most advancements in Flash to make this idea realizeable (speed, density, reliability, cost) have only occurred in the past ten years, this patent might survive a prior art challenge.

    6,849,480 (priority date: May 1999)

    Describes a few specialized ways of stacking SMT chip packages in order to increase density. Don’t know what the prior art looks like on this one, but it could apply to some configurations of SSDs, if any of the disclosed methods are being used.

    6,336,174 (priority date: Aug 1999)

    Describes a memory device that immediately copies data from a volatile to a nonvolatile storage area when a power loss is detected. The technology to make this happen might be applicable to an SSD design that includes a volatile cache memory whose contents are copied back into the non-volatile area during a shutdown routine.

    7,042,664 (priority date: Jan 2004)

    Describes a method for device-self testing in a disk drive storage device. Some of the claims are specific to mechanical read devices but one claim is set up more generally for any type of storage medium that engages in the disclosed method of running a self-testing routine.

    • bdwilcox
    • 12 years ago

    “promote the kind of cross-licensing and partnerships that have always been part of the hard-drive market.”

    Except when you “promote it” with a gun to someone’s head, it’s called extortion.

    Seagate could invest time and money into their own SSD technology but that means competitors would still have a leg up on them, so we can’t have that. Easier to kill your competitors in the womb than to actually compete in the marketplace, I guess. The IT market loves to eat its own.

      • Spotpuff
      • 12 years ago

      Semantics is a fun game, is it not?

      • credo
      • 12 years ago

      Well, if they have a patent on something wouldnt that suggest they DID invest the time and money? Sure it was only in research, but if that research is being used by other companies then guess what, they get royalties! Its called business. Seagate was just smart enough to get the blueprints in first. Now they can get paid by everyone.

        • Shining Arcanine
        • 12 years ago

        The patent does not cover the SSD, but how it interfaces with the computer with respect to error correction, which sounds like SATA as SATA is the current interface standard and it incorporates error correction.

          • tfp
          • 12 years ago

          Chances are it wouldn’t be SATA, most of the SSD harddrives are for enterprise solutions. SATA isn’t an enterprise standard, it’s a desktop standard.

          It would be a connection over Fiber or SCSI or something of that nature.

            • Krogoth
            • 12 years ago

            The difference between SATA and SAS are very blurry at best.

            SAS is just SATA engineered for higher standards. That is how a SAS controller can use SATA devices without a problem. However, SATA controller cannot use SAS devices due to slight protocol differences (geared towards RAIDs).

            • Xylker
            • 12 years ago

            That is misleading. The technology between SAS and SATA is exceedingly different. SATA is Serial ATA and SAS is Serial Attached SCSI. So, if SCSI is just ATA engineered for different standards, then you are approximately correct. More at the PDF below

            §[<http://t10.org/ftp/t10/drafts/sas1/sas1r10.pdf<]§

        • bdwilcox
        • 12 years ago

        Except Seagate’s not suing to stop patent infringement; they’re suing to hobble competitors and stifle innovation. They’re using the intellectual property branch of the judicial system for the exact opposite purpose of what the IP legal framework was designed for.

        Is it illegal? No. Is it a grotesque misuse and abuse of the legal system and IP law? Yup. There is the law and then there is the spirit of the law. Even if it’s technically legal doesn’t mean it’s good legal practice.

          • credo
          • 12 years ago

          “[Seagate] filed a lawsuit in federal court accusing STEC Inc. of patent infringement. […] In the suit, Seagate contends that STEC’s solid-state drive products violate four Seagate patents covering how such drives interface with computers. […] Mr. Watkins said that Seagate had spent $7 billion over the last year in research and development of the technology at issue in its suit. At the center of the suit is how solid-state drive technology interacts with computers, for purposes like error correction.”

          I actually read the article rather than just spouting rehtoric. You would help your case a great deal if you didn’t base your post entirely on opinions (why you /[

          • UberGerbil
          • 12 years ago

          And what you you suggest they do, considering that not attempting to enforce your patents when you discover infringement is tantamount to abandoning the patent? What criteria do you propose to distinguish between “infringement” and “stifling” and between protecting your IP assets and “hobbling” your competitors?

            • bdwilcox
            • 12 years ago

            From the article:
            “He added that Seagate executives did not contact STEC about infringement before filing the complaint.”

            They could have worked out a royalty payment with STEC rather than going for the jugular. Their goal is obviously not to collect royalties on existing patents, it’s to (mis)use the legal system to bleed their competitors dry.

            • credo
            • 12 years ago

            Their intent is “obviously” to send a message. Do you think they have time to waste on every company that wants to steal their ideas? STOP spouting your opinions as fact. Its killing you.

            • bdwilcox
            • 12 years ago

            Yourself <—– You need to get over it.

            • ludi
            • 12 years ago

            Having actually worked in the IP industry at one point, I share your dismay for the way the industry currently operates as a glorified bully pulpit. However, the law that permits all of this is longstanding and well established, and several rule changes to curb misuse have been in consideration throughout most of the past two years but are not yet finalized. Meanwhile, companies that don’t work to assert their intellectual property claims will get trampled by those who do.

            As such, I am scratching my head trying to figure out what your knowledge or credentials are to issue the opinions that you’ve spouted all over this page. It reads like a classic case of beer-soaked armchair quarterbacking. If you’ve got more than that to offer, you might want to share it.

            • bdwilcox
            • 12 years ago

            You might want to reread what I’ve posted. My posts are my opinion based on observable information. It’s also called deduction. I tried to read between the lines of what was known and also to compare it to similar patterns in the past. Seagate’s behavior pattern is very similar to that of other companies in the past who tried to thwart competitors by breaking them through legal fees.

            But, you’re right. From now on, every time I post, I’ll get your approval first. You can edit my posts based on merit, accuracy, relevancy, and punctuation. If you feel that my posts are only opinion, you may strike them down and I will genuflect before you. Deal?

            • ludi
            • 12 years ago

            Well, you know what they say about the unfettered prevalance of opinions. Meanwhile, you are certainly entitled to yours, but if these are the best three answers you’ve got, I’m entitled to call them ignorant.

            Does that mean your opinions are more ignorant than some of the other contributors? Nope. But you do have a fondness for displaying them early and often in a fashion that merely pollutes rather than helps. I figured out where you stood on this issue seven rants ago — and as I stated, I sympathize with portions of it. I begin to sympathize less when someone carries on like a jilted prom date, however.

            • bdwilcox
            • 12 years ago

            Please see #39

            • ludi
            • 12 years ago

            My sister used to try and end arguments that way before she matured, usually ones she started and had been very loud in defending. It basically meant she had been cornered but would sooner chew and swallow her own tongue than admit that maybe she hadn’t thought through all of the angles.

            Anyway, thanks for the shallow amusement, and best of luck in your future endeavours.

            • bdwilcox
            • 12 years ago

            A lecture on “maturity” coming from a guy who edited his last post to throw in a dig…priceless.

            “I begin to sympathize less when someone carries on like a jilted prom date, however.”

            • bdwilcox
            • 12 years ago

            Oh, and while you’re at it, could you please check the IP expertise and credentials of everyone that has posted on this thread. I’m sure a lot of what they’ve posted is opinion too and doesn’t meet your level of legal expertise. How dare they.

            • bdwilcox
            • 12 years ago

            But seriously, this sentence from the article sums it up:
            “He added that Seagate executives did not contact STEC about infringement before filing the complaint.”

            If Seagate were only interested in protecting its patents, it would have contacted STEC with a warning about infringement and then attempted to collect past royalties and set up a patent licensing agreement to avoid a lawsuit. It would have then contacted other infringers and sought patent licensing agreements with them as well. That’s how it’s normally done Instead, they went straight to a lawsuit. In the past this behavior is consistent with companies who feel threatened so they try to bury their competitors in legal fees. Add to that the fact that Seagate’s CEO basically alluded to that tactic in his interview and it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out what’s going on.

            • sativa
            • 12 years ago

            this is true for trademarks but not necessarily so for patents.

            • ludi
            • 12 years ago

            Yup, patent law doesn’t have an abandonment feature, but it does have a 20 year expiration. Trademarks have a much richer heritage in common law: a trademark can be abandoned, be insufficiently defended and subsequently be ruled a common word (this happened to Thermos, incidentally), or defended and maintained indefinitely.

    • UberGerbil
    • 12 years ago

    Looking towards the future, all the HD companies have to be concerned they’re going to end up like Kodak and Polaroid. They’ve got a couple of years before SSDs are mainstream in mobile applications, 5 or so before the consumer market starts seriously evaporating, and maybe 10 before the market for HDs is strictly servers and media archives. They need to get a strong foothold in the new technology by whatever means they can find.

      • alex666
      • 12 years ago

      Actually, Kodak has made a lot of adjustments to stay alive. But your point is well taken, though I suspect the really large hdds for storage purposes using current mechanical design will be the norm for years to come while the SSDs will be the norm for OSes and apps.

        • UberGerbil
        • 12 years ago

        Right, but things were looking very dark for Kodak for a while, and it’s still a shadow of its former self. In what was the high tech of the early 20th C, Kodak was a star. These days you can be a major player in photography without once considering Kodak, and that would’ve been unthinkable just a generation ago.

        The HD makers that make adjustments will survive; the ones that don’t, won’t. Getting your hands on IP for SSDs, or asserting IP that applies to SSDs as Seagate is doing, is one of those adjustments.

        And yeah, as I said, a decade from now HDs will still be found in servers and media archives. Mechanical HDs will have a long life… increasingly divorced from the daily experience of ordinary consumers, just like film.

          • Shining Arcanine
          • 12 years ago

          Kodak’s digital cameras are typically the best. They simply keep working (e.g. Kodak Point and Shoot CX7530) and using them does not pose any of the headaches of other digital cameras (e.g. HP Photosmart 318). I owned a HP Photosmart 318. It was a pain to use and it died shortly after its warranty expired. I brought a Kodak Point and Shoot CX7530. It has given me no headaches and I have had it for 3 to 4 years. If you do not consider Kodak, you are shortchanging yourself.

            • ludi
            • 12 years ago

            For point-and-shoot, maybe, but there are plenty of equally good competitive options from companies like Casio and Canon, and Kodak has virtually abandoned the SLR market.

            • UberGerbil
            • 12 years ago

            I wasn’t talking about cameras. I was talking about chemistry. There was a time when every single camera manufacturer had to consider how their products worked with Kodak film, because Kodak was the standard (for pro cameras the benchmark was Kodachrome 64). Kodak was like the Windows and all the camera companies were the hardware OEMs.

            That’s no longer true, and Kodak is just another player in the camera market (and a fairly minor one at that — Sony is a much bigger deal, for example, since they make the sensors used by several other makers).

      • indeego
      • 12 years ago

      I’m pretty sure every large publicly held company (minus SCO,) continually looks at their future markets 1, 2, 3, 4, 5+ years down the roadg{<.<}g

        • UberGerbil
        • 12 years ago

        They try, but the pace of change sometimes catches them by surprise. You can be sitting there going “someday, digital imaging will get cheap enough that consumers will stop buying film” or “someday, solid state will get cheap enough in sizes large enough, that the $/GB advantage of HDs becomes irrelevant”… and then all of a sudden a confluence of factors causes “someday” to arrive in a rush and you’re still caught flat-footed. Companies always try to protect the market they have at the expense of developing something that makes it obsolete. That’s why it’s usually new entrants that overturn the existing order, and the big guys end up playing catch-up (if they can). It’s wise to obsolete yourself before someone else does it to you, but it’s really hard to do in practice.

    • mac_h8r1
    • 12 years ago

    l[

      • tfp
      • 12 years ago

      He means defending normal HD vs SSD while they catch up…

        • Anonymous Coward
        • 12 years ago

        It may be the case that the research Seagate has done into things such as interfaces and error correction is all that stands between them and hoards of low-margin no-name competitors. Making SSD’s is probably pretty trivial compared to spinning storage.

          • tfp
          • 12 years ago

          I expect not otherwise more people would be making SSD.

          New tech and making it perform is not trival until all the bugs are hammered out.

      • Nitrodist
      • 12 years ago

      The purpose of patent laws is to foster invention, not hamper it.

        • indeego
        • 12 years ago

        So if patent holders like Seagate have valid patents, they should ignore infrigements?

        The problem is the system, not the patent holders, inventors, etc. They are forced to defend their IP given the environment.

        Hence why the system is under reviewg{<.<}g

          • Nitrodist
          • 12 years ago

          Did I say otherwise?

        • credo
        • 12 years ago

        And it did just that. Seagate worked hard to get the rights to the patent. They /[

          • Nitrodist
          • 12 years ago

          Did I say otherwise? Honestly. I didn’t say that the suit was frivolous.

    • Kraft75
    • 12 years ago

    Well at least Seagate is straight forward with it, I can respect that.

    *cough* RAMBUS *cough*

      • tfp
      • 12 years ago

      I can’t see any useful parallels to draw here between RMBS and STX yet.

    • tfp
    • 12 years ago

    From what I have read STEC has patents for years on SSD. They have also been making SSD since 1994/95 now, my guess is prior art and old patents will invalidate Seagate’s patents and kill the lawsuit.

    I also expect a counter suit from STEC in the near future.

    §[<http://biz.yahoo.com/ap/080415/stec_lawsuit.html?.v=1<]§ l[

      • UberGerbil
      • 12 years ago

      The devil’s always in the details — was STEC actually using these techniques before Seagate applied for their patents, etc. There are lots of error-correction techniques that aren’t unique to SSD usage, and using it in that context doesn’t immunize you from infringement even if it was granted in another context. But IANAL and I don’t feel like going through all these at uspto.gov.

      In practice, if STEC has any basis for a countersuit, the two of them will just end up settling on some patent-sharing contract, some money may change hands, and then they’ll both go looking for other infringers. And the barriers to entry will be higher for everyone else.

        • tfp
        • 12 years ago

        Yeah pretty much. At the end of the day I expect little to come out of this one way or another.

        Forunately the lawyers will make out ok.

          • UberGerbil
          • 12 years ago

          They always do.

          • mattthemuppet
          • 12 years ago

          poor things, I wonder how on earth lawyers can clothe and feed their children 🙁

      • ludi
      • 12 years ago

      SimpleTech’s earliest assigned patent appears to be USPN 6,442,625 with a priority date of either 1998 or 1997 (I don’t know whether the provisional application or the continuation takes precedence). Seagate made the first RAMDisk in 1978 and very likely has no particular IP disadvantages when picking a fight with STEC.

      STEC will very likely countersue for infringement on any and all applicable patents they own; that’s pretty much the first step in playing this game. After that, unless STEC can produce an infringement claim worth at least $25-50M more than whatever Seagate has got, the legal motion will stalemate and the two companies will go into negotiations. Some sort of broad cross-licensing agreement will come out of it, biased somewhat in Seagate’s favor. If Seagate can produce a devestating claim against STEC, STEC may choose to fold its hand and accept whatever reasonable buyout offer Seagate comes up with.

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This