Rembrandt IP Management filed separate suits against Seagate Technology and Western Digital charging that the two companies violated patents on the method for writing data to hard disk drives at high speeds and high storage densities.
The patents in question concern low-noise toroidal film read/write heads on drives that minimize magnetic interference, according to court papers. High-capacity hard drives use these heads because their larger storage capacities make them more prone to noise and interference. According to court documents, the patents are for a physical invention and not a software patent.
The lawsuit alleges "most of the drives" Seagate and Western Digital manufactures infringe on these patents, said Rembrandt IP Management. The drives are widely used in various consumer electronics, including personal computers, laptops, and digital video recorders.
Court documents list quite a number of Seagate and Western Digital drives by name, and appended a catch-all "any other products using similar technology" at the end.
For Seagate they include the Free Agent, Replica, Black Armor, Expansion, Barracuda, Momentus, Savvio, Cheetah, Constellation, Pipeline and DB35 and SV35 disk drives. For Western Digital they include the My Book, Elements, ShareSpace, My Passport, RE3, Caviar, Scorpio and AV disk drives.
The patents, US Patent 5,995,342C1 and US Patent 6,195,232, were filed back in 1997 by Uri Cohen. Cohen is listed on the patents as the co-inventor alongside Dennis Hollars. The patents were issued in 1999 and 2001, respectively.
Cohen had been convinced for awhile that drive manufacturers, including Seagate and Western Digital, were using his invention, but ran in to difficulty pursuing his investigation, said Rembrandt. He sold the patents to Rembrandt IP Management, which has the funds and time to pursue the case.
"We are working to obtain long-overdue compensation and recognition for his achievements," said Paul Schneck, Rembrandt's Chairman.
In these kinds of cases, the challenge for the plaintiff is to prove prior art did not exist, according to John Rydning, a research director at IDC. Seagate and Western Digital may decide to assert prior user rights and claim the rights to use the invention anyway, he said.
Even so, the drive manufacturers might not be losing sleep over the lawsuit. "Similar" cases like this have been brought against HDD OEMs and component suppliers in the past and don't "tie-up a great deal of Management's attention", said Rydning. "Like past cases, I expect there will be very little impact on any of the HDD makers, even if the plaintiffs prevail," he said.
"The use of Dr. Cohen's inventions without compensation serves as a disincentive to inventors," said Schneck.
Rembrandt has not specified how much they are looking for in damages, except that it should be a "reasonable royalty." The hard drive industry is about $12 billion a year, and these are two of the largest vendors in the market.
The lawsuit was filed in the United States District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin. The plaintiff named is Rembrandt Data Storage, an affiliate of the intellectual property management firm.
According to the complaints, the Wisconsin court is appropriate because the companies engage in "continuous and systematic business" by selling the drives in the area.
As expected, both Seagate and Western Digital declined to make a statement at this time.