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.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
    identicon
    sonofdot, Mar 24th, 2008 @ 9:57am

    Seagate still exists?

    Gee, I thought Seagate went out of business years ago -- just wishful thinking, I guess. Who's been buying their shitty products?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2.  
    identicon
    Hulser, Mar 24th, 2008 @ 10:09am

    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?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3.  
    identicon
    DanC, Mar 24th, 2008 @ 10:17am

    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...

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4.  
    identicon
    comboman, Mar 24th, 2008 @ 10:40am

    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.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5.  
    identicon
    Overcast, Mar 24th, 2008 @ 10:41am

    Hey.... it umm... worked for Netscape?

    Or maybe no..

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6.  
    identicon
    Michael Thwaite, Mar 24th, 2008 @ 10:54am

    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!

    MPT

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 24th, 2008 @ 10:59am

    Re: Seagate still exists?

    shitty products... Seagate drives are very good. Seagate and Western digital are the only two hard drive manufacturers out there with any quality products.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 24th, 2008 @ 11:25am

    Every seagate I ever owned went tits up in less than a year. its WD or nothing for me

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9.  
    identicon
    Alimas, Mar 24th, 2008 @ 11:26am

    Re: Seagate still exists?

    Seagates are the only hard drive brand I buy.
    I've had so many issues with WD hard drives I won't even consider them. But my Seagates have always gone strong.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10.  
    identicon
    exitstageleft, Mar 24th, 2008 @ 11:45am

    What about BitMicro

    BitMicro has been providing solid state hdds for businesses and military for nearly 10 years now. I wonder what Seagate will do about them?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11.  
    identicon
    Aero, Mar 24th, 2008 @ 11:57am

    Patent Infringement...

    He's is blowing smoke or something. I don't think they have much of a ground to stand on. As a patent holder don't have to aggressively go after infringements. It is clear that there are / have been infringements in his eyes, but they are doing nothing about it...do they have a case? Sounds like no...

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12.  
    identicon
    bobpaul, Mar 24th, 2008 @ 12:39pm

    Re: Seagate still exists?

    The only HD manufacturer to offer 5yr warranties across their entire product line going out of business? Not likely. Seagate and Hitachi are the only drives worth buying...

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13.  
    identicon
    bobpaul, Mar 24th, 2008 @ 12:43pm

    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.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14.  
    identicon
    Steve, Mar 24th, 2008 @ 12:48pm

    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.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 24th, 2008 @ 12:57pm

    well...guess i wont be buying in seagate HDD ever again.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16.  
    identicon
    Hulser, Mar 24th, 2008 @ 1:43pm

    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.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17.  
    identicon
    Henry, Mar 24th, 2008 @ 2:10pm

    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.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18.  
    identicon
    sonofdot, Mar 24th, 2008 @ 2:42pm

    Re: Re: Seagate still exists?

    Our experience has been just the opposite -- nothing but problems with Seagate drives, almost never a problem with WD. We haven't purchased a Seagate drive since the mid 1990s. Perhaps Seagate's quality has increased since.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19.  
    identicon
    Lawrence D'Oliveiro, Mar 24th, 2008 @ 4:07pm

    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.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20.  
    identicon
    vovo, Mar 24th, 2008 @ 5:51pm

    Re: Seagate still exists?

    >> Gee, I thought Western Digital went out of business years ago -- just wishful thinking, I guess. Who's been buying their shitty products?

    FIXED.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21.  
    identicon
    Jake, Mar 24th, 2008 @ 6:34pm

    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.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 24th, 2008 @ 8:37pm

    I used to be a Seagate and WD customer for my drives - Since SEAGATE is deciding to be like this - Now I am just WD customer - Buy Seagate Congradulations! You just lost a customer with your greediness! Doh!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23.  
    identicon
    inc, Mar 24th, 2008 @ 9:35pm

    nothing is holding them to SATA or IDE interfaced. There can be new standards and interfaces for SSD. Just make a PCI-E expansion card and then new motherboard manufactures will build on board.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  24.  
    identicon
    stv, Mar 25th, 2008 @ 6:30am

    spoken like a true troll tracker. who do you work for?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  25.  
    icon
    Nick Overstreet (profile), Mar 25th, 2008 @ 7:50am

    He's Nick Burns, your company's computer guy!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  26.  
    icon
    Richard Ahlquist (profile), Mar 25th, 2008 @ 12:21pm

    Screw you segate

    Seagate you just lost this IT professionals business for life.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  27.  
    identicon
    chris doane, Feb 8th, 2009 @ 10:04pm

    cheapest online patent service

    For the cheapest online patent filing, go to...

    http://www.cheaponlinepatents.com

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  28.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 20th, 2009 @ 10:31pm

    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.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  29.  
    identicon
    patents suck, Aug 20th, 2009 @ 10:51pm

    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.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  30.  
    icon
    Mike Masnick (profile), Aug 20th, 2009 @ 11:38pm

    Re:

    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.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  31.  
    identicon
    Adam, Aug 21st, 2009 @ 3:32am

    Why?

    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.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here
Get Techdirt’s Daily Email
Save me a cookie
  • Note: A CRLF will be replaced by a break tag (<br>), all other allowable HTML will remain intact
  • Allowed HTML Tags: <b> <i> <a> <em> <br> <strong> <blockquote> <hr> <tt>
Follow Techdirt
A word from our sponsors...
Essential Reading
Techdirt Reading List
Techdirt Insider Chat
A word from our sponsors...
Recent Stories
A word from our sponsors...

Close

Email This