Seagate Misappropriated Convolve Technology, Says Ex-Employee

Seagate Technology misappropriated disk-drive technology developed by Convolve, alleged a former Seagate engineer in a November affidavit. Attorneys of Convolve, a small IT company, cite that affidavit in new court documents and accuse Seagate of destroying evidence related to the case, in the latest twist in a decade-long patent-infringement battle that has also involved the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Compaq Computer.

Seagate Technology deliberately destroyed source code and other evidence in order to cover up its theft of technology originally developed by small IT company Convolve and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, claimed a former Seagate employee in court documents filed Nov. 30.

Those allegations could power a major twist in a nearly 10-year-old patent-infringement case. In July 2000, Convolve and MIT sued Seagate and one of its customers, Compaq Computer, for $800 million, accusing the two companies of misappropriating technology for reducing the vibrations associated with spinning disk drives. MIT originally developed and licensed the underpinnings of the design in question.

Convolve and MIT suggested at the time that Seagate and Compaq had violated an NDA (nondisclosure agreement) after Convolve demonstrated the technology to Seagate and Compaq for potential licensing. Following that demonstration, the plaintiffs alleged, the Convolve technology was misappropriated into competing drive designs.

Various parties in the case have spent the intervening period trading broadsides of legal documents. However, if this newest one is added to the record as the plaintiffs request, it has the potential to radically affect the case's ultimate outcome.

In an affidavit sworn on Nov. 27, according to court documents obtained by The New York Times, (PDF) former Seagate employee Paul Galloway said Seagate "widely disseminated Convolve's technology throughout Seagate's servo engineering community, but engineers like Mr. Galloway, who were exposed to Convolve's technology, were not told that it was protected under an NDA." Galloway had previously worked as a servo engineer for Seagate. A servo, short for servomechanism, is a device that utilizes feedback to adjust machinery performance and correct errors.

The documents also allege that "Mr. Galloway's affidavit also offers direct proof that Seagate has destroyed, significantly altered or improperly withheld key evidence in this case, including source code that Seagate was ordered to produce during discovery."

The plaintiff's attorneys want Galloway's affidavit included in the court's summary judgment record, sanctions to be imposed on Seagat, and the case set for trial within 90 days of a court-scheduled conference on Jan. 20, 2010.

Ongoing court case aside, Seagate has had something of a rough 2009. Despite being the world's largest maker of hard disk drivers for servers, storage and PCs, the company announced on Jan. 12 that it would cut 10 percent of its U.S. work force of around 8,000 people, and that both CEO Bill Watkins and COO David Wickersham would resign.

Seagate has offered various media outlets no comment on the legal proceedings with Convolve. Compaq was eventually acquired by Hewlett-Packard, which also reportedly had no comment.