Seagate may face noise reduction patent payout
But it's not shouting about it
Just as Seagate is getting back to health after a year of recovery, it has been accused of destroying evidence pertinent to a 10-year old noise reduction technology lawsuit instigated against it by Convolve and MIT.
In the 1990s, MIT academics developed "input shaping" vibration and noise reduction technology that steadied a hard disk drive's read:write head after a seek movement. This allowed it to read or write data faster, having to wait less time for the head to be firmly in position, and do so with less noise.
Convolve was a company formed to commercialise the technology which it licensed from MIT. Details of the patented technology were provided under non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) to both Seagate and Compaq - now part of HP - in 1998. Seagate subsequently developed disk drive products using similar technology. Convolve filed a patent infringement suite in mid-2000 which MIT was involved in as the originating technology licensor.
The suit, which claims $800m damages and a bar on Seagate and Compaq using the technology, has been ongoing since then. Compaq has been bought by HP and Seagate is said to have indemnified HP against any adverse results if the lawsuit is won by Convolve and MIT.
Now a potential bombshell has been revealed. According to court documents revealed by the New York Times (pdf), a Seagate servo engineer, Paul Galloway, has signed an affidavit alleging that Seagate broke the terms of the NDA. The affidavit suggests that it potentially used the Convolve technology in its own development efforts. Not only that, but it destroyed evidence that it had done so.
Galloway left Seagate in July last year and then contacted Convolve's lawyers. His affidavit claims Seagate distributed information about the Convolve technology and used it to develop its own, competing, technology. It also allegedly deleted code for a disk drive it was supposed to reveal as evidence to the court. It also deleted or did not reveal pertinent engineering meeting notes and has lost or destroyed Galloway's PC which stored material relevant to the Convolve case.
If this affidavit is accepted by the trial judge, then Seagate may face quite severe penalties, as US courts take an exceedingly dim view of corporations which withhold or destroy evidence. The affidavit may also blow a hole in Seagate's resistance to the Convolve suite, encouraging it to settle. A Seagate spokesperson said it: "cannot comment on pending litigation." ®
How can a patented technology be secret?
I thought the whole point of patents was to encourage full disclosure in exchange for a time-limited government granted monopoly on the product described in the patent.
If the technology is patented, why do Seagate need an NDA and "secret" details?
Point of Order
A patent requires details of how to do it, not necessarily the same thing as details of how you do it. So typically the patent will contain the worst possible implementation is what is patented.
Interesting that Mr. Galloway never thought to back up his system, leaving a copy in an obscure cabinet we it wouldn't also have been destroyed. Of course, carrying a copy out would have violated all kinds of trade secret laws...
As to the "patented == public", the key word there is details. I may be able to patent a device that levitates a battleship with only a 9V battery as a power source--the details of how that's done (electronic circuits, rare earth compounds, how coils are wound, naquadah reactor, etc) do _not_ have to be disclosed, and can remain trade secrets. That's what the NDA applies to.