Seagate: If Flash Drives Get Too Cheap, We'll Use Patents To Make Them Expensive

from the just-as-Thomas-Jefferson-intended dept

Back in 2005, we pointed out that Seagate’s CEO, Bill Watkins, should be worried about the future of flash solid state drives (SSDs) eventually replacing hard drives. It’s taken some time, but those SSDs are starting to show up in laptops like the MacBook Air and the Lenovo Thinkpad x300. Reader Nick Burns points out that Watkins appears to be singing the same old tune, with one slight adjustment. For the most part he’s doing the “nothing to see here, flash drives are still too expensive” song and dance — but people who understand the inevitable march of technology (and how the innovator’s dilemma works) are finally pointing out flash is getting much cheaper very, very quickly. So what’s Watkin’s response? If SSDs get really cheap, he’ll just sue everyone for patent infringement. Yes, even though SSDs are totally different technology than a standard hard drive, Seagate’s holding on to patents that cover “many of the ways a storage device communicates with a computer.” So, if solid state drives suddenly get popular, Watkins plans to sue. In other words, he’ll use patents to stop the competition of a totally different technology. It’s the same old story. When you’re losing in the marketplace, sue for patent infringement. If you want to know the point at which Seagate has realized it’s lost the battle, just look for when the infringement lawsuits come out. Just as Thomas Jefferson and James Madison envisioned.

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Comments on “Seagate: If Flash Drives Get Too Cheap, We'll Use Patents To Make Them Expensive”

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Re: Seagate still exists?

You’re probably thinking of Maxtor, which was bought out by Seagate in 2006. Now they’re the low end Seagate drives.

I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see the manufacturers filing for declaratory judgments to ensure any possible lawsuit stays out of Marshall (or the ITC).

This is the epitome of backwards thinking…”well, if anyone starts doing it better than us, we’ll just sue.” Yet another reason I don’t buy Seagate hard drives…


Totally different?

Yes, even though SSDs are totally different technology
than a standard hard drive, Seagate’s holding on to
patents that cover “many of the ways a storage device
communicates with a computer.”
First off, this definately sounds like an abuse of the patent system, but…even though the storage technologies are different, this doesn’t necessarily mean that Seagate’s “communicates with the computer” technology isn’t legitimately patented. It sounds like this kind of harddrive-to-computer interface tech is part of the standard architecture that all harddrives manufacturers use, but just by reading the post, there’s nothing to indicates that Seagate doesn’t have a legitimate claim in this area. Yes, the storage is “totally different”, but is the interface?


Re: Totally different?

Then why aren’t they suing other drive manufacturers? And wouldn’t the interface just be SATA? I believe anyone who joins the SATA International Organization (SATA-IO) has legal rights to use SATA without additional royalties. IE, they might have to pay the SATA-IO per device, but they wouldn’t have to pay another SATA-IO member company.


Re: Re: Totally different?

And wouldn’t the interface just be SATA?
Perhaps. But that’s my point; based on the post, we don’t know if they’re talking about SATA or some other interface technology. Seagate are apparently saying that they have a patent on the technology that allows a storage device to communicate with the computer. Instead of pointing out the patent in question, the focus of the post seems to be the difference between the types of storage device, which appears to be irrelevant to Seagate’s patent claim.

Now, if I knew what the patent was, I might be able to judge whether it passes the “moron in a hurry test”, but even if I am sceptical that they really have a valid claim, without knowing what the patent is, I don’t think it’s fair to judge Seagate.


Re: Re: Re: Totally different?

As far as I can tell, the article was less to do with the patent itself than the way Watkins seems to be intending to use it. According to the Fortune article,

He?s convinced, he confides, that SSD makers like Samsung and Intel (INTC) are violating Seagate?s patents. (An Intel spokeswoman says the company doesn?t comment on speculation.) Seagate and Western Digital (WDC), two of the major hard drive makers, have patents that deal with many of the ways a storage device communicates with a computer, Watkins says.

He doesn’t seem to have come out and said it, but the implication is obvious; Watkins is intending to use these patents -about whose details he appears to have been rather vague during his interview with John Fortt- for what amounts to blackmail. I sincerely doubt that’s even legal; it’s certainly immoral.


Re: Totally different?

Unless every other MFG has been licensing the ATA spec from Seagate, I think the precident is set that you dont need to do that.

Besides… Who cares what the interface is. It would be trivial for someone to come up with another interface spec… We’ve been through this before, people… MFM, RLL, ESDI, SCSI, SCSI-II, FC, ATA, SATA, eSATA, iSCSI… If that’s Seagate’s trump card, then I consider that a last gasp of a sinking ship.. More likely, they’ll join the trend, and try to make them cheaper.


What does the patent cover?

If the patent covers things like ATA and SATA, then he may have a point. I’m assuming that flash drives use these interface standards to communicate with the PC and basically emulate (in hardware) a hard drive. The way around it is to come up with a new standard, but then you have to convince motherboard manufacturers to support it.

Michael Thwaitesays:

USB or firewire: that would be the “communicates with the computer” solution; either is already implemented, bootable and reliable.

Speed isn’t as good as SATA but then, SATA speeds are more theory than practical.

Last solution; direct attached storage; straight off the PCI bus with a BIOS implemented PATA emulation.

I don’t think that the SSD vendors are worried in the least – they’re far ahead; Seagate should be inovating and emulating instead!



Business technique?

It seems more like a threat than something that Watkins would actually do. It’s simple. It just makes the flash drive makers have less of an incentive to develop flash drives much further. They will develop, but probably at a slower rate. This is because the developers would have the lawsuit risk so developing other technologies could be more financially appealing. Well, I think Watkins just wants to buy time, reel in the profits for hard drives while he can and then develop something else. If this lawsuit does happen, it will definitely hurt SeaGate’s reputation as already seen in some of the comments posted. Still, the flash drive develops cannot completely ignore the threat.

Lawrence D'Oliveirosays:

What's wrong?

A patent is a grant of a monopoly. Being a monopoly, it means you’re allowed to shut out competition. So if Seagate has patents that it can use to shut out competition, why shouldn’t it be allowed to use them? Isn’t that the essence of what patents are about? If you’re against that, you’re against patents.


Please get your facts right. I work for Seagate. Bill Watkins is no longer the CEO of Seagate and is in no way associated to Seagate. His words and actions have no bearing on Seagate.

Um, this post was written in March of 2008, when Watkins was absolutely CEO of Seagate. It’s true that he’s no longer CEO, but I’m not sure why you’re telling us we’re wrong on a post that you just found a year and a half late.

patents sucksays:

Lawyers are the only ones who win

The worst flaw of patent law is that anyone can sue you for infringement, regardless of whether or not you’re actually infringing. The patent holder doesn’t even necessarily have to cite the specific basis for infringement. It’s a completely backwards system (so much for “innocent until proven guilty”) under which innovation is stifled and billions of dollars are wasted on frivolous lawsuits. Furthermore, the technical people who can best explain why an invention is noninfringing are so far removed from the lawyers that they are never even consulted before a settlement is in the works. In the end, the only people who win are the lawyers. Everyone else loses, and the American taxpayers foot part of the bill without even knowing that someone just got away with murder.



Why is Seagate choosing to ruin its image now? They make very reliable HDD’s, great warranties, great prices, and many HDD manufacturers barely even come close. And people will still choose Seagate HDD’s for a good while.

Can’t they get their brilliant engineers to make their own version of SSD’s to sell? I’m sure they’d do well. SSD’s have a few years to get to HDD capacity and price, more than ample enough time. No need for this patent threatening nonsense.

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