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Seagate Sues STEC For Patent Infringement

kdawson posted more than 6 years ago | from the hey-at-least-it's-not-a-software-patent dept.

Patents 51

Lucas123 writes "Yesterday Seagate filed suit against STEC, claiming several of its products, including solid state disks and some DRAM devices, infringe as many as four of its patents. Today STEC responded that it holds patents on the technology 10 years older than Seagate's. A Seagate win in the suit, or a settlement, could result in the equivalent of a tax on SSDs and potentially other flash memory products, increasing prices to end users at a time when demand for SSD storage is exploding."

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Well... (1)

abolitiontheory (1138999) | more than 6 years ago | (#23080456)

The Empire is going to be pissed.

Timing (1)

strikeleader (937501) | more than 6 years ago | (#23080464)

In business timing is everything.

Aw crap! (4, Interesting)

blind biker (1066130) | more than 6 years ago | (#23080552)

STEC makes some of the best (in terms of reqrite/erase endurance) Flash RAM modules for the money. As a new Eee PC user, I am about to buy one or two of their SD cards, as their models are actually unmatched WRT write endurance, by any SD manufacturer, as far as I could tell. Very few focus on this characteristic - all the others mostly only care about transfer speed and capacity. Why does the juggernaut Seagate have to go after this particular manufacturer?

Re:Aw crap! (5, Informative)

mpapet (761907) | more than 6 years ago | (#23080660)

It's a shakedown.

Seagate fears the market potential STEC has. The simplest path is to litigate STEC to death over patents or trademark.

It's happened to every small company I've worked for. Most of them closed up shop because the big fish buried them in Trademark and Patent litigation over and over again.

Re:Aw crap! (1)

noidentity (188756) | more than 6 years ago | (#23084206)

I was going to be in the market for a new hard drive, and was looking at Seagate, but I guess I better reconsider.

Re:Aw crap! (1)

jafac (1449) | more than 6 years ago | (#23110860)

. . . yep.

And the sick thing is, I used to work for Seagate, back when the founder, Al Shugart (the guy who practically invented the disk drive when he worked for IBM) was in charge, and he was VERY vocal about his opposition to the "sue em" business model.

No wonder he was forced out.

Re:Aw crap! (1)

masdog (794316) | more than 6 years ago | (#23080734)

Why does the juggernaut Seagate have to go after this particular manufacturer?

Seagate probably looked at the market and just randomly picked one to go after. Or they looked for the one they thought was the weakest and would cave into demands for a licensing agreement.

The Seagate lawyers probably didn't do their due diligence when researching which company to go after first.

Re:Aw crap! (3, Interesting)

JrOldPhart (1063610) | more than 6 years ago | (#23080736)

Seagate is the Monster Cable of the Disk Drive Industry. Try to do a startup of any form of mass storage and you will need to spend a large portion of your seed money on legal to hold Seagate at bay. Until they see that you are standing dead.

Seagate scared (4, Interesting)

crow (16139) | more than 6 years ago | (#23080648)

Wasn't it just a month or so ago when the CEO of Seagate said he wasn't worried about SSD impacting their market, but if it became a threat, they would use their patent portfolio to defend against the new competition? So doesn't this mark a very rapid change of outlook on Seagate's part? I guess SSDs are the next big thing--Seagate confirms it.

Re:Seagate scared (1)

JrOldPhart (1063610) | more than 6 years ago | (#23080786)

That is because Slavegate, oops, Seagate, knew the legal department would kill any competitors.

"Nothing personal, just a business decision." That line was used as several hundred employees were being scrapped, it is the credo of Seagate.

New tags for Seagate Stories - Slavegate (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23081026)

Slavegate would make an excellent tag for all stories involving Seagate. Thanks for the idea.

Re:Seagate scared (2, Informative)

keithjr (1091829) | more than 6 years ago | (#23081842)

You're absolutely correct. Here's the story [arstechnica.com] you're referring to.

Resorting to patent lawsuits is NOT a sign of a confident/competent tech company. There's a good chance this will cause a backlash if it fails, which in my opinion is what Seagate richly deserves. Litigation must not become a viable business strategy.

Re:Seagate scared DELAY EXPLAINED (2, Interesting)

Nom du Keyboard (633989) | more than 6 years ago | (#23082468)

So doesn't this mark a very rapid change of outlook on Seagate's part?

He just didn't know which possible patents he could throw against it at the time and didn't want to be questioned on that point. Now he believes he knows that answer.

Re:Seagate scared (1)

Znork (31774) | more than 6 years ago | (#23082906)

CEO of Seagate said he wasn't worried about SSD impacting their market

Frankly, I'd be surprised if Seagate was losing much business to SSDs yet. Samsung, on the other hand, appears to be wiping the floor with them.

Re:Seagate scared (1)

Generic Guy (678542) | more than 6 years ago | (#23083504)

Frankly, I'd be surprised if Seagate was losing much business to SSDs yet. Samsung, on the other hand, appears to be wiping the floor with them.

Probably a drop in the bucket at the moment. But let's face it, spinning magnetic platters are so 20th century -- they create a lot of heat, they're heavy, draw a significant amount of power, and are still slow compared to the monumental improvments in other computer components. Not to mention hard drives have moving parts and are the single most likely component to fail in any PC or device.

Bill Watkins already went on record that Seagate is looking to ignore Solid-State Drives in their quest for more capacity. When Intel (you know, the 800 lb. gorilla in the computer chip world) announced last month that it was going to make consumer level SSDs, I think the Seagate folks dropped a few bricks in their pants. Unsurprisingly, just a few scant weeks after Intel's big announcement now Seagate starts suing the junior SSD companies.

I really think Seagate was caught flat-footed in this run away from spinning platters. Like SCO, apparently they think they now think they can use lawsuits to keep them afloat.

P.S. I think this also marks a new trend away from giant, heavy 15- and 17-inch laptops to smaller, more portable completely-solid-state type devices. Like the Asus Eee for example.

I can see the humour in this. (1)

0111 1110 (518466) | more than 6 years ago | (#23080712)

At last. A patent lawsuit that I can find some humour in. Usually they are frustrating and sad. I would like to mod the whole article +1 funny. On a side note, all of my drives are Seagate. I have had good luck with them and dig their 5 year warranties. I have had an 80 gig seagate that until very recently I have been using as my OS drive without the slightest sign of problems since 80 gig drives were state of the art (is SOA or SOTA a valid acronym?).

Re:I can see the humour in this. (1)

steve-san (550197) | more than 6 years ago | (#23080930)

(is SOA or SOTA a valid acronym?)

Don't know about SOTA, but SOA is already taken by Start of Authority in DNS land.

At least, that was the primary meaning of SOA (in my mind), until the damn dirty marketroids started spewing "Service Oriented Architecture" all over the place, whatever the hell that means.

Sorry, pet peeve. I'll shut up now.

I had a 20MB SSD from 1996 (1)

Stonent1 (594886) | more than 6 years ago | (#23080716)

I used to have a 20MB Sandisk IDE Flash drive from 1996. It had a standard laptop IDE connector on it. I'm not sure what its purpose was as I got it bare with nothing attached to it. But that shows the technology of IDE Flash drives have been around for at least 12 years.

Re:I had a 20MB SSD from 1996 (1)

wiredlogic (135348) | more than 6 years ago | (#23082722)

Sandisk was also making IDE flash drives even earlier when they were still Sundisk.

Re:I had a 20MB SSD from 1996 (1)

hkmwbz (531650) | more than 6 years ago | (#23086528)

OT, but your signature [communistsforkerry.com] is interesting, considering that all candidates want to take away stuff for the commong good. Maybe Ron Paul is (nearly) an exception, but even Bush is a Marxist according to your signature. Oh, and how did the name tag magically change? :o

Re:I had a 20MB SSD from 1996 (1)

Stonent1 (594886) | more than 6 years ago | (#23229290)

I've had that sig since the previous election I think. That is an actual quote from Hillary a few years ago when she was referring to Bush tax cuts that were ones that gave actual cash back to regular people. I just in general think the government needs to get its hand out of our pockets.

Clearly, protecting the innovator (5, Funny)

pieterh (196118) | more than 6 years ago | (#23080842)

Once again, patents protect the innovative small company from brutal and unwarranted aggression by larger out-dated firms who...

Hang on. Seagate. Right.

Oh, this must be one of those very rare cases where patents don't act in the interests of society.

Re:Clearly, protecting the innovator (2, Insightful)

geekoid (135745) | more than 6 years ago | (#23081284)

Don't be stupid.
Patent are there to help the patent holder, regardless of size. They make it easier for the little guy to get into or start a market.

If Seagate has a patent, then they should gt compensation.

This is the patent system working fine.

Yes, it needs changes, but it also does what it is supposed to pretty well.

This is why 'patent reform' make me nervous. What are the odds that if it is reformed it will be better? very low, in fact I think if momentum begins going in that directions, large corporation will push to make it like copyright law.

Very specific areas need to change, or be removed.

Re:Clearly, protecting the innovator (1)

pieterh (196118) | more than 6 years ago | (#23081810)

Patent are there to help the patent holder, regardless of size. They make it easier for the little guy to get into or start a market.
Patents help the patent holder if and only if (a) they can afford to defend them in court, which costs upwards of $1m and (b) they do not themselves infringe on other patents.

Given these two conditions, patents most definitely do NOT make it easier for the little guy to get into or start a market. Oh, unless by "little guys" you include well-funded patent trolls, who definitely love the current patent system.

What they do, very effectively, is stop competition in markets. This is the patent system working fine, if you are against the kind of change most people would consider "good": lower prices, wider choice, higher quality.

In most industries the cost of entry is pretty high anyway so the barriers that patents create don't show so much. In software the cost of entry is close to zero, so the barriers that software patents create are so high as to be infinite to the vast majority of potential "little guys".

You need to do better than say "it's working".

What exactly does that mean? Can you point to a single economic study (not paid for by a large patent holder or a patent office) that proves this?

STEC's Official Response (3, Informative)

relikx (1266746) | more than 6 years ago | (#23080952)

You can read it here. [cnn.com]

STEC believes that Seagate's action is a desperate move to disrupt how aggressively customers are embracing STEC's Zeus-IOPS technology and changing the balance of power in enterprise storage.

QFT

Another One Bites The Dust (1)

JrOldPhart (1063610) | more than 6 years ago | (#23080986)

STEC, next in a long list of innovative startups to spend their R&D of legal maneuvering with Seagate.

Re:Another One Bites The Dust (1)

JrOldPhart (1063610) | more than 6 years ago | (#23081014)

spend their R&D of legal

Make that: "spend their R&D budget on legal"

The USPTO is broken. full. stop. (4, Interesting)

zappepcs (820751) | more than 6 years ago | (#23081040)

This is a perfect example of where the patent system is broken. It makes only logical common sense that the innovator here should be allowed to continue unfettered after paying a minimum penalty payment. By minimum, I mean $1 USD or something, and the patent holder forced to negotiate royalties via arbitration. If you have the patent and sit on it... tough, sucks to be you. If you wait more than 1 year after the common market sale of said product, you get nothing and the patent falls to public domain.

If you are found to be stifling innovation by using patents to block innovators... well, say good bye to ALL your patents in the next 7 years. At least any patents that look similar to the one in question. Say, all your hard drive patents.

Patents are meant to protect, not be used to bludgeon your competition into bankruptcy. If you misuse them... nach!, all your patents are belong to the public domain.

It's time that this stupid use of patents was brought to an end.

Sure, my suggestion has some issues, but every solution less than 100 pages long does. The idea is what I'm offering, not the fine details.

Re:The USPTO is broken. full. stop. (1)

element-o.p. (939033) | more than 6 years ago | (#23081152)

The idea is what I'm offering, not the fine details.

Just out of curiosity, did you patent the idea?

Re:The USPTO is broken. full. stop. (1)

JrOldPhart (1063610) | more than 6 years ago | (#23081236)

I'll bet Seagate laid off the engineer who did patent it.

Re:The USPTO is broken. full. stop. (1)

zappepcs (820751) | more than 6 years ago | (#23081268)

Yes, and I am letting it fall into the public domain, thank you very much.

Re:The USPTO is broken. full. stop. (1)

geekoid (135745) | more than 6 years ago | (#23081258)

"If you have the patent and sit on it... tough, sucks to be you"

Yes, because anybody can get money, market, and get something to the public in a year.

Does your ignorance know no bounds?
If someone violates your patent and can not bear the court case from doing so, then it isn't the patent holders fault, is it?

almost all the time, patents work as intended. Your plan fails under the harsh glare of practicality.

try again.

Re:The USPTO is broken. full. stop. (1)

jedidiah (1196) | more than 6 years ago | (#23081992)

Well... if you don't have the money capitalize on an invention then there it's a
pretty good bet that you didn't invest much into it either. Patents are meant to
encourage disclosure of things that are useful and presumably difficult to come
up with.

It shouldn't be a cash cow for collecting tolls on the trivial (like Tivo).

If you are going to interfere with future innovation for the next 17 years
it should be something that people have been trying to unsuccessfully create
for the last few decades (like the revolver).

Re:The USPTO is broken. full. stop. (3, Insightful)

zappepcs (820751) | more than 6 years ago | (#23082098)

If you walk into the courtroom with a working demo of the product you are developing for the patent, ok, you win. If you have nothing to show for your patent other than paperwork from the patent office... sorry.

Yes, if you do not act fast, you can lose the patent to the public domain. Of course, if you truly have something that is innovative and non-obvious it will not readily be 'also invented' by someone else.

The patent system was created to deal with commerce and innovation of 500+ years ago. Do I need tell you about the contrast between then and now?

Technology based patents are useless in about 5 years; nearly worthless in 3. Anything longer than 7 years is gratuitous. Yes, I believe that there should be levels of patents issued. If your technology is truly innovative and paradigm shifting, ok, 21 years. It's not so if all you did was change the color (colour) or connector.

There no longer is a one size fits all schema. If you want a business process patent, I'm okay with that, but you only get 2 years from date of issue, after that it goes to public domain.

Oh, genetic patents... nach! not getting them. If you think your soybean seeds are better than nature has created, prove it by selling more without a patent. Absolutely no patents on anything that nature created: all you are doing is changing the color or connector. period. no. joking.

And to answer your point, if you are working on something and can show valid reason to have the patent longer, so it will be. If you have nothing, that is EXACTLY what you are leaving the courtroom with.

Re:The USPTO is broken. full. stop. (4, Insightful)

stoev (103408) | more than 6 years ago | (#23081280)

There is nothing, nothing, nothing innovative in SSD. The innovation may exist in Flash memory manufacturers and even this is very much in doubt. The situation currently is that huge companies like Samsung, Intel, Toshiba,... make enormous investments for new flash factories. They will be the beneficiaries of SSD, not some small innovative company. Seagate may be a monster in HDD business, but it is nothing compared to Samsung in more general terms.
So I wish Seagate good luck in defending their business. Because the next company they will have to target will be Samsung and this will not be a walk in the park.

Re:The USPTO is broken. full. stop. (1)

Intron (870560) | more than 6 years ago | (#23082142)

"There is nothing, nothing, nothing innovative in SSD."

Totally wrong. Cheap SSD flash drives put a bunch of flash chips behind one controller. They can do maybe 100 random writes per second. More expensive ones have multiple controllers that run in parallel and get 500 IOPS. STEC ZeusIOPS claims 17000 random write IOPS. They are innovative and scaring the hell out of the rotating disk manufacturers. I wouldn't be surprised to see Intel come to STEC's aid.

Re:The USPTO is broken. full. stop. (1)

Wavebreak (1256876) | more than 6 years ago | (#23082418)

I don't see how 'more' equals 'innovative'. If they're doing something funky with the interconnects, sure, but if it's just a case of using brute force to solve a problem, that's not innovation, it's just incremental improvement. Not saying it's not impressive, just that innovation it ain't.

Re:The USPTO is broken. full. stop. (1)

John Whitley (6067) | more than 6 years ago | (#23094006)

Yep. What's more, SSD's are just the beginning of a radical shift in the shape of the computer memory hierarchy - the bottom will move "up" considerably. Staggering amounts of key software (operating systems, databases, etc.) are written against the limitations rotating media. SSD's end all of that. No more seek or rotational wait times are just the start. STEC and others will remind us that there's no inherent need to be limited to the read/write speed of the drive head(s) anymore. In simple terms, think of an SSD as "RAID of a mess of flash chips"... but that's a poor analogy, as the hardware connections and software protocols will change and adapt to the newfound performance.

It's that latter implication that's especially disturbing for the Seagates of the world. Almost all hard drive techonology is about to be rendered utterly obsolete, except for a time as protocols for portable "drives". While Seagate litigates, other companies will be working hard on moving past all of the technologies and protocols Seagate is based upon.

Re:The USPTO is broken. full. stop. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23154004)

Multiplexing the data for this purpose (improved speed) at the expense of more control electronics is old hat and shouldn't be patentable these days just because it is applied to flash.

Does anyone have the actual patent numbers so I can go look them up?

Regards, Non.

Patent Infrignment (2, Funny)

Ceiynt (993620) | more than 6 years ago | (#23081340)

Maybe STEC can get Kurt Denke on the phone about this. He seems to have pwned Monster Cables with patent C&D latters.

Penalty for abuse of the courts urgently needed. (1)

BlueParrot (965239) | more than 6 years ago | (#23082046)

The problem is not unique to the patent system. What is needed is stricter laws that heavily penalize abuse of the court system. It shouldn't matter if it is the RIAA consistently dropping their cases after discovery, SCO claiming copyright infringement without a case, some silly patent about connecting voip to a phone line, or any other number of equally retarded claims. If it can be shown with a reasonable level of evidence that your lawsuit has clandestine motives and that you are effectively abusing the court system in order to make life difficult for somebody else, then you and your lawyer should be heavily penalized.

Simply put the courts isn't some sea-side casino where you go fishing when you can't come up with anything better to do, and if you treat it as such you deserve a decent slap so you don't do it again.

Or: the whole corporate economy is broken (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23083448)

So called "fiduciary duty" is interpreted as a duty to do all abusive and illegal things to bring "shareholders value". On the other hand, corporations are not liable for their actions. There are two rules of law to be effective:
1) penalty for abuse couts/patent system/ets (as described above)
2) personal liability for corporate abuses: a CEO is liable for corporation's actions, alternatively he can forward his liability to shareholder (if there is a proof that shareholder was pressing a corporation to behave unlawful to get more profit); high risk, big money; big money, high risk; (this is my sense of justice - forcing corps to behave morally and not letting CEOs for risking nothing and landing with their gold parachutes);

Seagate is Scum (1)

Nom du Keyboard (633989) | more than 6 years ago | (#23082390)

Not only doesn't Seagate have any competing product here, but they're going to do their best to ensure that nobody else does either. While that may benefit Seagate, it harms the rest of us - which isn't what the patent system is supposed to be all about. That defines Seagate as scum.

If this is just a SATA connection, how does Seagate own it to start with? Other companies make SATA hard drives. And if they don't own it, how are you in trouble adhering to it?

I see that Intel is potentially dragged into this as well. Wouldn't it be great if Intel announced that their next chipset wouldn't connect to Seagate drives unless Seagate cross-licensed some new protocol item. And once they did, Intel extends that licensing to other drive manufacturers. After all, this nonsense can't be good for Intel's business.

what could possibly be patentable there? (1)

nguy (1207026) | more than 6 years ago | (#23082932)

May Apple II had an SSD disk. Sun workstations had them. They have been used with and without battery backup, as a write cache for disks, to speed up NFS, whatever. Since the disk controller and disk driver imposes such overhead, it matters little what you do on the card, other than a little write leveling and parallel I/O for slow flash. Whatever you do with them is trivial engineering.

What's next? Patents on blinkenlights? Patents on the power switch?

And So It Goes... (2, Interesting)

His Shadow (689816) | more than 6 years ago | (#23083220)

Can't compete? Litigate!

those who can't do, sue (1)

EjectButton (618561) | more than 6 years ago | (#23083458)

I had been wondering over the last couple years what Seagate's response was going to be to the rise of cheap flash memory. Apparently the answer is "become a drain on society and try to slow things down as much as possible since we can't keep up".

It seems in the modern "free market" when you get big bloated and stupid rather than go out of business or adapt it is a legitimate course of action to instead become a parasite and suck money out of the economy by abusing the legal system.

This is unfortunate, I didn't have anything against Seagate until recently.

Seagate is a failing company! (1)

Kinnaird (851535) | more than 6 years ago | (#23083500)

They behave like their product is superior in some way, maybe it once was, but they are slipping big time. I have several backup drives some have been going 1-2 years, I foolishly bought a Segate FreeAgent Pro it overheated and burned out in less than 4 months the esata never worked, a known issue, and the overheating issue is known as well! Yes it's under warranty but I lose my data and have to mail it in, so that they can send me another bum drive! Iomega in similar circumstances just sent out a new drive, I say drop Seagate like a hot potato!

Don't complain about the consumer price... (1)

HockeyPuck (141947) | more than 6 years ago | (#23085040)

...when EMC/IBM/HDS/HP are charging you $2000 for a 250GB drive.

"But it's the special firmware we put on the drive....."

Bullshit, you put it in a fancy carrier and put a couple of LEDs on the outside.

I can't wait to see the pricing on SSDs for DMX arrays.

Re:Don't complain about the consumer price... (1)

red star hardkore (1242136) | more than 6 years ago | (#23087756)

EMC actually use STEC drives.

And, selling drives at enterprise level is quite different to selling them a consumer level. When you buy something as a consumer, the product is shipped to you as-is. When you buy enterprise storage, everything is thoroughly analysed, tested, qualified. Everything has redundancy. The software that is developed monitors the whole system to try and detect failures before it happens. You then have an engineer on site to correct the problem before you even realise you have a problem. If you have never been in an EMC plant and seen the process each little component goes through to ensure that there are no failures/potential failures shipped to clients, then don't complain about the prices. As I said, enterprise storage is completely different to consumer storage.

Would you pay tens if not hundreds of thousands for a storage system for your mp3's and photos? I think not. What would you pay? A few hundred euro at most maybe? For that price, you get the product as-is. That isn't good enough for a bank for instance. If their storage system fails, their business if GONE. They are willing to pay the huge amounts of money for the service and not just the product that EMC and other enterprise storage companies provide.

the patent system isn't broken (1)

conan1989 (1142827) | more than 6 years ago | (#23088980)

the patent system isn't broken, it's doing exactly what it's designed to do... just not what the public was told it was to do. it just one more form of control to keep the elite, elite.
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