Technology pricing follies: EMC claims price list is a trade secret

Technology pricing follies: EMC claims price list is a trade secret

Summary: Is a price list that anyone piece together via Google really a trade secret? EMC seems to think so.


Is a price list that anyone piece together via Google really a trade secret? EMC seems to think so.

EMC issued a cease and desist letter to Robin Harris at StorageMojo for publishing a price list that can be put together with a few Google searches. Harris, who will soon be starting a storage blog for ZDNet, outlined a host of URLs where the information could be found in his response to EMC.

None of that mattered though. EMC issued a letter that read:

Robin Harris: Your Website posts a price list of EMC Corporation. Having worked in the industry for over 20 years in both large and small companies, you certainly must know that EMC’s Price List is Confidential Information of EMC, and is protected as a trade secret. Without waiving any remedy that we may have, we hereby demand that you (1) remove the EMC price list from your Website, (2) cease and desist posting it there or anywhere else, (3) destroy all electronic and hard copies, and (4) confirm the above to us by return email. Your actions in this regard will be taken into consideration by us in deciding how we handle this matter.

William R. Clark
Sr. Intellectual Property Counsel
EMC Corporation

Welcome to the wonderful world of technology pricing where nothing is straightforward. Want to stump a technology CEO? Ask him or her about the price list. Software execs will say: "Well it depends on size of purchase, size of company, whether they are using one core processors or two, time of month and lunar cycle." OK we made up the lunar cycle part, but you get the idea. Hardware execs will offer some similar argument.

Meanwhile, companies that claim to be at least a little transparent about pricing post lists on their site...somewhere. Good luck finding those price lists from a vendor's home page. The lists are there, but are far from visible--in fact most of them can't be discovered from the home page. Best bet: Google a vendor and price list and you may luck out.

The bigger question here is why the technology industry tries to hide its pricing practices. Could it be competition? Margin pressure? You bet.

But the current pricing as trade secret argument is sheer lunacy.  To see how idiotic tech pricing is let's port current practices to a consumer-led sector like retailing. Walk into a Target and you'll find price transparency. You actually know the price of an item. Some companies like Wal-Mart even put smiley faces on prices. Go figure.

Now the technology industry equivalent would be the following: Shopper walks into store and finds no pricing on any of the goods. After finding some help inside the store the shopper asks: "How much is this?" The store worker replies: "Well it depends on your usage level, how many people are in your family and our licensing agreement, which changes in real-time by the way. If you hire a lawyer I'm sure we can reach an agreement."

Doesn't make a lot of sense does it? The worst part: Technology buyers have been playing this game for years. Technology pricing isn't a trade secret. It's a joke.

Topic: EMC

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  • "Technology pricing isn't a trade secret. It's a joke"

    Trouble one is laughing.
    Neither is anyone doing anything to discourage the bad jokes.
    The jokers (jerks) should be boycotted and brought to their knees. Then see how much of a trade secret their prices are.
    Ole Man
  • Too funny

    To me, a trade secret is something that you don't want anyone outside of the company to know. Which seems extremely ridiculous when it comes to the pricing of your products.

    Does this mean that if I try to buy something from EMC and they disclose the price, as a shareholder I could sue them for devaluing the company by knowingly giving away trade secrets??
  • Here's my credit card....

    Just charge it for any amount you like. After all, I shouldn't have the right to know the price BEFORE the purchase, now do I.

    Attorneys are destroying this country lawsuit by lawsuit, demand letter by demand letter. This is utterly ridiculous!
  • So, what did you do?

    You stated that the cease and desist was ludicrous. Did you cease and desist, or stand up to what you believe you are legally allowed to do? I hope you did not put your tail between your legs and run.
  • company=south end of northbound horse

    Clearly, if the author simply built a story using facts publicly available and not bearing any copyright notices, then that story is itself the intellectual property of the author, not of the company that the story talks about. The author has, as of the date his work was created, a legitimate copyright on the price list he "built" from the web-available non-copyrighted data. That data did not come from the company and it has no rights to or in it. If the company had, as part of the sales contracts with the customers, a clause where the customer agreed to "protect" the price, then if the customers breached it, the company may have a cause of action against the customer. But not against the author. If the attorney alleges causes of action against the author that cannot in good faith, based on the facts and the law, be alleged, then the author should pursue an ethics complaint against the attorney with the attorney's state bar.
  • dork lawyer

    Bill the intellectual property attorney asserts that the price list is both confidential information and a trade secret. Those are not the same thing, and he and every other IP attorney knows it. There is no such thing as a trade secret price list, if prices are to be quoted to customers. This is legal bluster at its worst, and Bill the Attorney is a jackass, but then he's paid to be one.
  • Terrible Channel Strategy

    As a reseller we have worked with EMC on a handful of occasions. We have some customers that lover their products, but their sales reps are extremely pushy. EMC is not the only software company that won't let you publish their price list. Not being able to really limits how we as a reseller can showcase their product. This strategy is puzzling at best.

    Spencer Ferguson
  • Price list?

    The lawyer is probably afraid he may one day have to disclose his pricing. (Has anyone ever gotten overcharged by a lawyer?? If not, I can tell you some horror stories.) Price hiding is a good sign that it just isn't worth the risk of doing business with such a company.
  • Price lists

    I have had to deal with many different vendors over the years. The idea of not publishing prices isn't new, nor is it limited to the technology sector. There is an auto parts house in town that will not give you a price over the phone, period. If you ask them if they can beat a specific price they always say yes, but you will have to come down to the store for the exact price. Their rational was that the competition was calling up for parts prices and then beating those prices by a dollar.

    So EMC's idea is nothing new. I just hope that they have a much luck as the auto parts house I described: dead and gone for two years now!
  • I disagree


    You have oversimplifed a very complicated subject, and the examples you provide (retail versus B2B) are not analogous.

    First, I should mention that Robin Harris writes as an analyst for my company. I was very pleased to hear about his upcoming contributions to ZDNet. Having said that, Robin knows I examine difficult topics such as this from more than just one perspective.

    While my company practices transparent pricing with its clients, I do not subscribe to the idea that all companies should do the same.

    Here are some of my thoughts and questions...

    1. Retail versus B2B sales. I understand the difference, but I'd like to better understand your perspective. Please explain how my purchase of a clock radio at Wal-Mart is comparable to General Motors' purchase of, say, an Oracle BI application. Do you believe Wal-Mart should charge a resident of NYC the same price as a resident of Lake Providence, Louisiana? Do you believe Oracle should charge the State of California the same as the State of Delaware? Why?

    2. You mentioned retailer price transparency. For giggles, let's take a closer look. Wal-Mart and Target, to name just two, only "publish" prices at the local level in individual stores on the placards that you mentioned. There is no online resource where shoppers can compare same-retailer brick-and-mortar prices from store to store, and state to state. That is to say, there is no genuine price transparency. Wal-Mart and other retailers do adjust their prices according to geography and other factors, but they do not share this information with the public. I visited two Wal-Marts, separated by just 35 miles, on two separate occasions (one in Rindge, NH, the other in Amherst). I discovered that a large bag of Purina One dogfood (same size and type) cost 25% more in the Amherst store. Do you think Wal-Mart makes an effort to tell the folks in Temple (the half-way point between the stores) and the surrounding area that prices are more expensive in their Amherst store? Of course not. Not a good example of price transparency.

    I could go on and on about Wal-Mart's deceptive pricing practices and taxpayer subsidization of its workforce, but we'll leave that discussion for another day. Needless to say, pricing isn't as transparent as you'd like to believe...even in the retail sector.

    3. So the question remains - should B2B pricing be transparent? Excellent question, but much too complicated to address with a handful of paragraphs on a blog. This is my take in a nutshell. Transparency is certainly insightful, but I don't believe it is necessary. If a company wishes to publish its pricing, it is free to do so. Does that mean companies with unpublished pricing are trying to be unfair, dishonest, or deceptive? Generally speaking, I do not believe so.

    Should a Fortune 50 multinational giant expect to pay the same unit price for components of its infrastructure as a 50-person niche manufacturing company? Should a company located in California expect to pay the same as a company in West Virginia? My answer to both questions is no. Pricing for a specific customer is influenced by many factors including market conditions, the cost of serving different customers, the estimated value to the individual customers, and more. So why bother publishing pricing, when clearly one price does not fit all? Publishing a time-dependent, deal-specific price list is instigative at best and doesn't make much sense to me.

    As an aside, I had originally prepared a lengthy comment about the contradictory nature of today's consumers. It was the first thought that sprang to mind when I began reading the complaints about price transparency. Here's the gist of it: We do not practice what we preach. Many of us hide behind a cloak of anonymity on the Internet. We're closed and live opaque lives, but we preach about openness and transparency. And we have the audacity to expect more from others...from our politicians, our neighbors, our manufacturers and service providers, just to name a few.
    • transparency of pricing vs. threats against 3d parties for disclosing

      I really don't care whether they publish their prices, or if the prices vary. The classical public market is a place where you haggle to make a contract to buy and sell something. What I object to is threatening a third party who simply gathers and publishes publicly available truthful information, not gotten from the company. That is what I find inexcusable and ought to subject the attorney to an ethics complaint.
  • Here's one link I found.

    seems to be pricing list for Florida.
    • Just a simple Google search

      I goggled EMC and pricing
      • Oooooops! There you go

        Giving away trade secrets.

        Aren't you afraid of getting sued?
        Ole Man
  • A published price list, especially if available from Google,

    is not a trade secret. In order for something to be a trade secret, it has to be well, ahhhhh, ummm, ............a SECRET! Something that is published and disseminated publicly is never a trade secret. I suspect that letter was not written by a lawyer, but by a lawyer wannabee who watches too much TV.

    What makes more sense is if the writer of the letter characterized the price list as "confidential information" of EMC, although if the information is available publicly, that argument would be hard to make in court.
  • Time for a new Mashup!
  • Microsoft is the leader!

    These people are only trying to follow the footsteps of Microsoft. They must figure if Microsoft could get away with it, why shouldn't they?
    Read this and see why Microsoft is the only OS pre-installed on practically every computer sold.

    Microsoft's Dirty OEM-Secret
    Ole Man
  • RE: Technology pricing follies: EMC claims price list is a trade secret

    Hah I can't believe this was talked about in 2007 and it is still a concern in 2011, did you guys hear the iphone story?

    Alan Peterson