EDIT: 4/15/08 @ 827pm EST
After careful consideration, it has become apparent to me that putting myself in jeopardy of commenting on active litigation that (potentially) involves my employer isn’t a smart thing to do. That being said, I’ve decided to leave this content here, but with the following disclaimer:
The opinions expressed here are my personal opinions. Content published here is not read or approved in advance by EMC and does not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of EMC. The information I’ve presented below is through personal research through publically available news sources (news.google.com and other media outlets) and does not represent anything but a high level overview of the potential consequences of this lawsuit.
As I was holding my 11 day old daughter last night (about 3am or so), I kept going back to this whole lawsuit issue between Seagate and STEC. There were a few things that were bugging me about the nature of this suit and, I thought I’d pose them here.
a.) Why STEC? In my mind, STEC represents the first successful ENTERPRISE foray for SSD drives in the storage market. BiTMICRO and mTron have done an excellent job of being the performance leaders for consumer drives, but, never quite reached that pinnacle of performance and reliability that is needed in the enterprise storage space. As such, STEC represents the single greatest danger to Seagate and their ability to continue to push FC disk as the performance leader in enterprise (SAS is another great challenger to that concept, but we’ll leave that for another discussion). Additionally, as pricing parity is reached between SSDs and magnetic disk, there becomes an even greater divide between price and performance.
The other aspect of “why STEC” has to do with the who else is in the market. Why didn’t Seagate sue Samsung, Intel, BiTMICRO, mTron, Crucial, et al. in addition? Each of these companies have SSD devices (either of their own design or OEM’d from others) that they’re pushing into the market…
b.) Why sue vs. purchase? Interesting concept, at least to me. Knowing that they were somewhat behind the times on this new technology, why didn’t Seagate investigate the potential benefits of purchasing STEC? It makes sense, really. Companies routinely purchase IP in order to gain advantage within the market. With Western Digital buying Komag (and locking up platter manufacturing), why not go down the route of buying your greatest threat? All in all, Seagate easily could have read the writing on the wall and seen where SSDs were going (especially after the EMC Symmetrix announcement!!!!). If Seagate truly wants to protect their shareholders, etc. it would make sense to get into a market segment that promises to be upwards of 8 billion dollars within the next year.
These are my initial thoughts for this morning. Let me know if you have any other ideas.
EDIT: 4/15/08 @ 12:21pm EST
c.) Is Seagate turning into the next Rambus? Sitting in a meeting this morning, I was again trying to review some of the peculiarities of this case (which have been somewhat validated by the statement issued by STEC below). Seagate’s main contention is that STEC violated the following four baseline patents within 3 discrete categories: error correction, memory-backup systems, and storage interfaces with computers. If we follow this particular logic, then, we must assume the following:
- Seagate developed, controls, and receives royalty payments for: SAS, SATA, Fibre, SCSI interfaces within a given open system AND the signaling technology. (i.e. both physical and electrical connectivity)
- Error-correcting algorithms are EXCLUSIVE to Seagate and as such, SMART, sector remapping, etc. are exclusive domains of Seagate’s IP.
- BBUs (battery back up) devices specific to cache within a storage system are proprietary to Seagate and thus subject to oversite and/or royalties, etc.
What’s not really clear here (and mind you, I don’t have access to the patent #’s in questions and their technological backend), is the role of each of the governance boards in this (Fibre Channel Industry Association, SCSI Trade Association). What I find very fishy is that Seagate, being a part of each of these groups, would be allowed to patent something that is an open format (that I am aware) and a trade standard (i.e. Fibre connectivity). If you recall, Rambus did the EXACT same thing by sitting on the DRAM design boards and then backend patenting the technology that was developed. Not saying that Seagate is ultimately a mini-Rambus, but the sheer ferocity in which Seagate seems to be going after STEC is quite suprising.
oh, and in case you missed it, STEC released their counter-statement this morning:
STEC is one of the first companies to build SSDs, having designed, manufactured and shipped SSDs as early as 1994, long before any of the suggested patents were issued to Seagate. Given the effect SSDs are having on the HDD market, STEC believes that Seagate’s lawsuit is completely without merit and primarily motivated by competitive concerns rather than a desire to protect its intellectual property. STEC believes that Seagate’s action is a desperate move to disrupt how aggressively customers are embracing STEC’s Zeus-IOPS technology and changing the balance of power in enterprise storage. Seagate is sending a clear signal that it recognizes STEC as the leader in the SSD business and is attempting to slow down part of the growth that STEC is gaining through its SSD offering, particularly in the enterprise segment. STEC will aggressively pursue its defense to this infringement action.
In addition, STEC will also closely examine the patents asserted by Seagate as STEC believes it held such technology including prior patents, dating more than a decade prior to any of Seagate’s patents. Although STEC is in the process of analyzing the claims in this lawsuit, STEC believes that Seagate’s asserted patents pertain to technologies where STEC has years of prior experience and/or patents. STEC has significant patents related to SSD which have been developed through the decades of experience STEC has with developing, manufacturing and shipping SSDs. Beyond that long history, STEC also believes that many of Seagate’s claims are not relevant to SSD. 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 this process, STEC will determine if Seagate is misappropriating any of STEC’s core technologies; STEC will take appropriate action to protect its interests, including seeking the invalidation of Seagate’s patents.