STEC’s ‘No Way’ response to Flash Seagate’s legal eagles

We were there before you

Flash solid state drive (SSD) manufacturer STEC cannot understand how Seagate has grounds to sue considering that STEC built SSDs as early as 1994, long before any of the disputed patents were issued to Seagate.

Seagate CEO Bill Watkins (pictured left) has said STEC is, in effect, stealing Seagate’s intellectual property.

Seagate is sueing STEC for infringing four Seagate patents dealing with how SSDs interface to a host computer and how errors are detected and corrected. The four patents in question are U.S. Patent Nos. 6,404,647 (issued in 2002), 6,849,480 (issued in 2005), 6,336,174 (issued in 2002) and 7,042,664 (issued in 2006).

In a statement STEC asserted that ‘Seagate’s lawsuit is completely without merit and primarily motivated by competitive concerns rather than a desire to protect its intellectual property. … STEC will aggressively pursue its defense to this infringement action.’

It believes that Seagate is simply trying to disrupt sales of its Zeus-IOPS products because they will impact its hard disk drive (HDD) sales and also Seagate wants to hinder its efforts so that its own SSD technology will have an easier run at the market.

STEC is optimistic that, once its lawyers closely examine Seagate’s claims, it will find them lacking in any merit as STEC has been active in the SSD area for a decade before Seagate arrived on the scene. It believes that it was using the technologies in question before Seagate filed its patents and may well have its own patents pertaining to the technologies at issue. For example, STEC was one of the originators of stacking technology with patents dating back to the mid-1990s, while Seagate’s patent on this matter was issued in 2005.

Through these examinations STEC will determine if Seagate is misappropriating any of STEC’s core technologies. If it is found to be so doing then STEC will take appropriate action to protect its interests, including seeking the invalidation of Seagate’s patents.

Manouch Moshayedi, chairman and CEO of STEC, said: “Throughout our 18 year history, STEC has been diligent in its pursuit of industry-changing technology while entirely respectful of the intellectual property that has been developed by others. The allegation put forth by Seagate in recently published articles that STEC ‘…ha(s) stolen (its) patents,’ is simply not accurate nor in line with STEC’s long history of success and fair play in these markets. In fact, STEC believes these allegations are in response to the competitive threat that we as a leading developer of innovative SSD technologies pose to the HDD industry. We view this action as Seagate’s attempt to slow down the growth that STEC’s SSD business is experiencing, particularly in the enterprise segment. We have a high degree of confidence in STEC’s intellectual property portfolio.”

In 2004 Cornice entered the microdrive market with stripped down HDD technology in products for the portable elerctronic device market. Seagate and Western Digital successfully sued it and the firm had to withdraw products.

Seagate is possibly hoping that STEC too will be relatively easy meat for the Flash Seagate legal eagles. STEC on the other hand appears to have what is in effect prior art which could render Seagate’s claims invalid.

The much larger Seagate can afford legal activities that will distract STEC’s managemernt and raise doubts in its customers minds far better than STEC can endure such a legal onslaught.

Once again the US patent system seems set to be a field for business competition by legal action rather than a straightforward way to adjudge who owns what IP.

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