Seagate patents Compact Flash - 10 years late!

Seagate patents Compact Flash - 10 years late!

Summary: Can "prior art" be too prior?Dramatic evidence of America's broken patent system surfaced in last week's lawsuit by Seagate against STEC, the innovative developer of high-performance flash drives.

TOPICS: Legal, Hardware, Storage

Can "prior art" be too prior? Dramatic evidence of America's broken patent system surfaced in last week's lawsuit by Seagate against STEC, the innovative developer of high-performance flash drives. Imagine winning a patent for something invented 10 years before. Seagate may sue SANdisk next.

Seagate owns a patent on flash-based storage devices. The application was filed in 2000 by HP. Seagate later bought it.

Deja-vu - all over again Here is a drawing from patent 6404647. It's described as

. . . a perspective view of a mass memory storage device constructed in accordance with the principles of the present invention


Can't quite place it? Maybe this will jog your memory:

kingston-cf-card.jpg [photo courtesy of the vendor]

It is all there, even down to the guide rails. Who knew getting a patent could be so easy? Or that patent examiners could be so clueless?

I bought a $400 10 MB CF card in 1993 - so I know that they'd been invented by then.

Size matters Part of Seagate CEO William Watkins' pique with STEC is fueled by a suit from 3.5" drive inventor Rodime that Seagate paid $45 million to settle. Rodime patented the 3.5" form factor for disk drives - and got the courts to enforce it.

Watkins knows that patenting disk drive form factors is silly - they have to be standard sizes - but if the USPTO grants them and the courts enforce them, why not?

The Storage Bits take Solid-state drives with the form factor of disk drives long predate the HP's patent app. What do patent examiners use for research - Ouija boards?

The good news is that the Supreme Court has forced the patent courts to change course. In KSR v Teleflex the Supremes ruled that the non-obviousness is a legal question, not a factual one, which means that lower court findings can be appealed. Rodime would have lost under that rule. While it will take time for KSR to play out, in the short term it almost certainly reduces the value of existing patents - like Seagate's ludicrous flash drive patent.

I suspect that Seagate's real goal is to cross-license with STEC for their industry-leading flash translation layer and architecture. I hope STEC fights this and the rest of high-tech gets back to real invention instead of silly patent games.

Comments welcome, of course. What is your favorite bogus patent?

Topics: Legal, Hardware, Storage

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  • Bogus Cat Toy Patent

    My favorite is a patented method of using a laser pointer to excercise your cat (or any curious animal). Lawyers can turn anything into a pile of cat-box-contents.

    Title: Method of exercising a cat
    Document Type and Number: United States Patent 5443036
    A method for inducing cats to exercise consists of directing a beam of invisible light produced by a hand-held laser apparatus onto the floor or wall or other opaque surface in the vicinity of the cat, then moving the laser so as to cause the bright pattern of light to move in an irregular way fascinating to cats, and to any other animal with a chase instinct.
    Amiss, Kevin T. (255 S. Pickett St., #301, Alexandria, VA, 22304)
    Abbott, Martin H. (10549 Assembly Dr., Fairfax, VA, 22030)
    Application Number: 08/144473
    Filing Date: 11/02/1993
    Publication Date: 08/22/1995
    Primary Class: 119/707
    International Classes: A01K15/02; A01K15/00; A01K29/00
    Field of Search: 119/702, 119/707, 119/174, 119/905, 446/485
    • I have prior art!

      I was doing that in 1979!

      Granted, the laser was 35 pounds, so it actually gave both the cat AND the user a workout...
      John Zern
    • prior art for bogus cat toy

      For years I have been doing this with a torch or the reflection of the sun off my wrist watch. I have even used the laser etched device known as a compact disc to reflect the sun to do this. Believe it or not these methods are actually more effective than the laser pointer as they prefer the bigger target to chase. I should apply for a patent for these and sue all the other people I have also seen using these very same methods ;-p
  • Hey, I invented the laser beam cat toy!

    At least they haven't sued anyone!

    R Harris
  • Right on Robin!

    Hopefully this gets fought through the court system and common sense finally prevails. Our nations patent system is out of control and is thwarting innovation, not driving it forward. This suit is ridiculous. Shame on Seagate!
    George Mitchell
  • Simply fix to patent system

    How about this: If you're patent application is declined, or is ever overruled, you die. That's right. You are executed. Now, is "your" "idea" all that unique? That would pretty much put an end to all this nonsense.
    • I patented that in '73

      To the guillotine with you!!!

      Seriously, I read a lot of, um, excrement on zdnet these days,
      but your post made me LOL.
  • RE: Seagate patents Compact Flash - 10 years late!

    Nearly as good a British Telecom saying it owns the patent to HTML and every ISP that hosts a page with hyperlinks should pay BT!
  • '647 is only for atomic and magnetic (useless for flash)

    On the surface, the '647 patent seems to reference solid-state drives in the CF and IDE factors, but these are just the figures and, as such, are not enforceable. The claims (the enforceable legal parts) reference:

    "wherein said high density storage device is an atomic resolution storage device" (Claim 8)

    "wherein said high density storage device is a magnetic random access memory device" (Claim 9)

    Flash is neither atomic nor magnetic. Guess this was for some new style of memory not yet invented.

    Thinking the '647 applies to anything in the market place is pure lawyer fantasy.

    (Yes, the patent system is broken, but if STEC has to spend millions defending itself against fantasy, the legal system is far more broken.)
    • re: '647 is only for atomic and magnetic (useless for flash)

      I think 'atomic' refers to the lengthscale of the guts of the device, not the method of storage. Which doesn;t make the patent any less a troll. I'm off to patent breathing - you lot had better get ready to cough up or turn blue...
      • To late I already grew gills

        And I patented oxygen, I'll be happy to sell you some oxygen usage licenses to help you get that breathing thing off the ground though :)
  • RE: Seagate patents Compact Flash - 10 years late!

    Can I patent a cat toy too? It's just a twist-tie from a bread wrapper.

    Or perhaps I should patent it in the cat's name, since she's the one that discovered they're fun to play with all on her own.
  • I am working on patenting the idea of patents

    When I'm done all patents will belong to me since I will produce prior art of my idea of patents. Yeah I know that owning the idea of patents would make me very, very old, but the fact that my name is Duncan McCloud of the Clan McCloud should fill in the missing gaps for you.
  • Seagate - take your drives and stuff them! (NT)

  • RE: Seagate patents Compact Flash - 10 years late!

    I worked for Texas Instruments for about 5 years. They have a guy whose entire job is to search new products and new patent applications for infringements of Texas Instruments patents. It's a high stakes, high dollar job. Much of Texas Instruments' income is from enforcing patents. In our high tech world, lots of people have the same idea at the same time. That's what patent lawyers are for. And there's lots of money in thinking up new ways to use technology. Seagate's patent isn't exactly like the compact flash card I use in my digital camera, but it's close. The interface is different but the insides are exactly the same. The digital camera companies could be next on Seagate's hit list. Flash drive maufacturers should worry too. The only difference between the flash drive I use for file backup and transport and the Seagate device is the packagin and once again the interface. Does packaging and using a USB interface modify the device significantly enough to avoid patent complications? A judge might think not.
    • Figure is not a patentable; read claims

      The figure may show a CF card, but the figure is not enforceable; only claims are.

      The claims in the patent are eons away from flash (see above '647 post re atomic and magnetic)

      This madness needs to end before someone really does patent breathing. Patents are supposed to be about fostering innovation. They are anything but.

      Peer review has been guardian of the integrity in the scientific world for over four hundred years. The legal world could benefit greatly from its introduction into the patent system (if not litigation as a whole).

      Specific suggestions include:
      - Peer review and period to challenge "non-obviousness" of patent prior to granting a patent
      - Protection of inventors from 7-figure legal fees (peer review prior to allowing lawsuits)
      - Protection of third-parties from fantasy infringement (like the Seagate v STEC case)
  • Who invented the telephone?

    The only reason Alexander Graham Bell gets credit for the telephone is his patent application was stamped one hour before a patent for exactly the same thing. There were two telephone patent applications in the patent office at the same time. Bell's application happened to be higher in the stack. And Thomas Edison didn't invent the incandescent light bulb. It was invented by a chemist in Britain. The only difference is Edison's light bulb used tungsten wire the Brit's used carbonized cotton thread. The chemist had been producing light bulbs in Britain for a year before Edison made his discovery.
  • Fails "not obvious"

    The patent definitely fails the "not obvious to a person of ordinary skill in the art" requirement. Even the average technician would realize it requires a circuit board, a connector and a protective case. There is nothing in what you showed that would be "not obvious".

    See, now if someone put an LED on the case so that you could tell when the drive was being accessed, now THAT would be "not obvious".

    Or ... even more ... they could put TWO LED's! One for "connected--power on" and a SECOND one for "drive being accessed"!

    DARN! I think I just gave away a gold mine by accident!
  • Somebody patented the combover hairdo.

    Patent # 4022227, "Method of concealing partial baldness." Check it out for yourself.

    Now that's a bogus patent!
  • RE: Seagate patents Compact Flash - 10 years late!

    I rather thought, all these years down the way, that the story of Rodime was that they were a little company that created something that was far in advance of anything else that was out there. Seagate, and others, knew this, so they just ripped off the technology, breached the patents, Rodime went bust, and only existed for umpteen years as a hollow shell to allow the remaining shareholders to pursue the litigation. The final sums gained were a tiny fraction of the profits made Seagate, and Quantum(?) and others I think. Capitalism at its worst, really, and I'm no communist.