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Seagate CEO flips patent finger at SSD makers

But now's not the time for lawsuits, apparently

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Seagate's CEO said he believes manufacturers of solid-state drives are treading on his company's technological toes. But in an interview, Bill Watkins hinted that Seagate won't sue unless SSDs become more popular.

Speaking to Fortune magazine, Watkins said that right now laptops with SSDs are just too expensive and deliver too little storage capacity.

True. Right now, SSD-equipped notebooks carry considerably higher price tags than models with HDDs. There's an appeal in a drive that doesn't go tits up if it's dropped, though now that most laptops have accelerometers to detect sudden drops, the chances of a fall completely ruining a hard drive have been minimised.

But the fact is, even then an SSD is more resilient than an HDD. Assuming the two formats are matched on performance - the jury's still out on whether SSDs make a significant improvement here - that just makes resilience even more the key selling point.

Watkins also reckons the lower capacity of SSDs is a factor, but not everyone needs a colossal storage space. With 128GB SSDs just round the corner, that's going to be far less of an issue. Anecdotally, plenty of laptop owners we know require less than 80GB of laptop storage capacity.

That being the case, and as Flash prices plunge, SSD will surely become more popular. If so, that's when Watkins will call his lawyers. Watkins claims his company's patent portfolio - Western Digital's too, he suggests - cover many if not all of the ways storage devices talk to computers. But it's not hard to imagine firms that have been around as long as Seagate has will have quite a few others that might also take on devices, or parts of devices, like SSDs.

Except, of course, why isn't he suing now? The products are available to buy, and even SSD purchased means an HDD stays on a shelf somewhere, quite possibly in a Seagate warehouse. Companies on the receiving end of Seagate lawsuits relating to SSDs will, reasonably, argue that if it's not a problem for Seagate in March 2008, why is it a problem at that point in time.

In any case, lawsuits won't kill SSDs. They might make them a little more expensive, but in the timescale Watkins appears to have in mind, they'll be cheap enough for that not to make much of a difference anyway.

Patent violation lawsuits almost always end in out-of-court licensing agreements. Seagate will get a big payout, the defendants will simply amortise that across all the drives they expect to sell in the future.

Seagate will have entered the SSD market long before then. Indeed, Watkins last year said it would do so this year...

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