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Data Storage Hardware

Hard Drive Imports to be Banned? 391

Posted by CowboyNeal
from the outlaw-drives dept.
Arathon writes "Apparently the International Trade Commission is beginning an investigation that could lead to the banning of hard drive imports from Western Digital, Seagate, and Toshiba, among others, on the grounds that they fundamentally violate patents held by Steven and Mary Reiber of California. The patent apparently has to do with "dissipative ceramic bonding tips", which are important components of the drives themselves. Obviously, a ban would be unthinkable, and yet the ITC has 45 days to settle on a fixed date for the end of the investigation. If the patents are found to be violated, and the Reibers do not allow those patents to be bought or otherwise dealt with, the importation of almost all hard drives would actually be ceased."
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Hard Drive Imports to be Banned?

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  • useful arts (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Speare (84249) on Friday October 12, 2007 @07:37AM (#20951325) Homepage Journal

    And this is promoting the Progress of Science and useful Arts, how, again?

    • Re:useful arts (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Bert64 (520050) <bert@noSPam.slashdot.firenzee.com> on Friday October 12, 2007 @07:39AM (#20951339) Homepage
      Well, it could spur drive makers to create a replacement technology to get round the ban.
      But more likely they'd just revert to some older non infringing technology, resulting in inferior drives for any country which enforces the patent.
    • Re:useful arts (Score:5, Informative)

      by gravesb (967413) on Friday October 12, 2007 @07:44AM (#20951383) Homepage
      Ideally, if these two people actually invented the technology, then they should get paid for it. If people get paid for inventions, then they are more likely to continue to invent, as are others. A patent allows them to shop the technology around and sell it. Without patents, large companies could steal the technology and there would be no monetary reward for small inventors. I'm not sure that's what happened in this case, and the patent system has swung too far in one direction. But that's why there were three SCOTUS cases on patents last term, a few this term, and a bill in the Senate to overhaul the system. Hopefully it will move the system back in the other direction.
      • by mpe (36238)
        Ideally, if these two people actually invented the technology, then they should get paid for it. If people get paid for inventions, then they are more likely to continue to invent, as are others.

        At least this is the theory behind patents existing in the US. AFAIK this has never actually been tested.

        A patent allows them to shop the technology around and sell it.

        Assuming that anyone wants to buy the "invention" and the patent was correctly awarded in the first place.

        Without patents, large companies co
        • by Sique (173459)

          Without patents, large companies could steal the technology and there would be no monetary reward for small inventors.

          This can easily happen even with patents. Either large company says "see you in court" or they say "you might have a patent, but we have 20 applicable to your invention"...

          That's why people and companies have resorted to not manufacture anymore, but sit on patents and sue infringers. Because they don't sell any product themselves, they are not infringing on anyone else's patents. Patent Trolls are a direct reaction to patent warchests of big patent holders.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by CRCulver (715279)

          At least this is the theory behind patents existing in the US. AFAIK this has never actually been tested.

          How exactly would you test it? The only thing we can go on is anecdotal testimony by inventors, which generally supports the view that the system is working as it was intended. Wilson Greatbatch, inventor of the implantable cardiac pacemaker and over a hundred other inventions, openly states that his goal is to get patents and make money from licensing them, otherwise he wouldn't have invented anythin

      • Re:useful arts (Score:5, Insightful)

        by aurispector (530273) on Friday October 12, 2007 @07:59AM (#20951493)
        This kind of smells like a patent mugging to me. If all these companies were using the patent, why did it take so long to file suit? Did all these companies ignore due diligence? Is there some sort of standards that were hashed out while the patent was kept underwater like in the Rambus case?

        I really think there needs to be some sort of limit on how and when patent holders can do this sort of thing, coupled with some way standards bodies can file public notice regarding intent to use a particular process or design. First to file is not a bad starting point, but prior art could come into play in the context of such a public notice process, e.g. standards board says we are making stuff like this...public period to comment...patents not claimed by 180 days invalid for this case...NO profit for patent holders!

        The muggings gotta stop
        • by rbanffy (584143)
          If you _know_ about a patent you infringe, you may have to pay three times as much as if you can say you never saw it. This effectively forbids engineers to read patents and that, in turn, limits the value of patents as a tool to promote the progress of science and useful arts. Unless the research gets published in a journal, nobody that should see it will ever get to it.

          If the Reibers actually did invent something that is non-obvious and used in hard-drives, I think a reasonable fee could be reached, perha
        • Doctrine of laches (Score:3, Insightful)

          by gillbates (106458)

          States that a plaintiff may not collect for damages compounded by the plaintiff's actions, or failure to act.

          Of course, IANAL. But this is /., so...

          For example, if a plaintiff knows his patent is being infringed, he cannot simply wait until after the infringer has produced the product for a number of years and then sue for an inordinate sum. In such a case, the court is not likely to grant royalties for past infringement because the plaintiff knew about it and did nothing to stop it. Future royalt

      • Ideally, if these two people actually invented the technology, then they should get paid for it. If people get paid for inventions, then they are more likely to continue to invent, as are others.

        That's the general idea, yes. But on the other side of it, ensuring that everyone gets paid for "their" inventions seriously increases the overhead of trying to do anything new and useful. You can't just say "hey, that's a useful idea, let's do it that way", you have to track down everyone who came up with all the different parts of the idea and pay them off first. Even if you came up with the idea yourself, you still have to find out if anyone else came up with it first. So the benefit in one area (more

        • Complicated things made up of a lot of complicated subsystems are expensive. Hard drives are a multi-billion dollar business. patents ensure that each person who does hard work for each small part gets a just reward. I don't quite unedrstand your point otherwise, unless you think that it's a good thing that giant companies with the ability to productize complex items should not have to pay the actual inventors.

          As for your 'basic assumption', there is nothing stopping any given inventor for releasing hi

      • by Ed Avis (5917)
        Surely they should get paid for it in the countries where it is used. If someone in Taiwan is using their patented process to manufacture hard disks, they should sue and receive royalties in Taiwan. Unless the patent is infringed by merely using a finished disk, banning the import of disks seems inappropriate. The import rule looks like a fishy attempt to make the US patent system apply to other countries.
    • Re:useful arts (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Daniel Wood (531906) on Friday October 12, 2007 @07:47AM (#20951407) Homepage Journal
      I don't know the validity of the patent nor do I know if it was a submarine patent, so I can't comment on that aspect. While the ban would have severe financial impact on most of the magnetic storage industry, if not the entire economy, this could be the real kick in the pants that SSD's need. This has the potential massively increase density and lower costs of SSD's in a very short timeframe. If they can cram 16GB on a SDHC card(Due January 08), imagine how much storage they could put in a 3.5" or even a 1.8" SSD. That said, this ban will not be enacted. The federal government will not allow a ban on imports of magnetic HDDs. Not only because of the financial devastation it has the potential to cause, but because it would severely inconvenience the government as well. Remember the whole BlackBerry patent suit?
    • by ubrgeek (679399) on Friday October 12, 2007 @08:05AM (#20951537)
      Not to worry. The platters are round and hold digital media. The RIAA is bound to get involved somehow ...
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by hey! (33014)
      Actually SCOTUS has essentially ruled that that particular phrase is "dicta", which means it regards those words as having no binding legal force.

      To address your (rhetorical) question, the first approximation is that as things stand patent laws do not have to have anything to do with promoting progress in the useful arts. Even if they had to they are not constitutionally bound to be completely successful all the time. A patent regime would only have to be on balance more good than bad. This duality is b
  • by gravesb (967413) on Friday October 12, 2007 @07:40AM (#20951347) Homepage
    After the eBay v. Mercexchange case, injunctions are not automatic. The ITC could just award damages if it finds infringement, and not stop the flow of harddrives.
    • That would be good times. The entire supply crashing, as it were, to a halt. The anguished cries of a million geeks raised in prayer. The five 250gb drives I have sitting doing nothing finally worth their weight in gold.
    • by mcelrath (8027) on Friday October 12, 2007 @07:46AM (#20951401) Homepage
      Better yet, injunctions should be disallowed.

      It certainly harms the progress of useful arts to stop sales and/or development. Instead, patent violation should be assessed only in the amount of money owed from one party to another, calculated as a reasonable fraction of the profit earned from goods in violation of the patent.

      If the inventor has a great idea, but an incompetent marketing and/or development, the patent should allow others to compete on the basis of marketing and development, using the same idea, but the patentor should get his due in any case.

      In other words, I think all licensing of patents should be compulsory. I can't see any argument why any party should disallow any other party from implementing their patents. It seems this is only ever used for anticompetitive purposes, which harms the market and harms consumers, and is illegal when done in other ways.

      --Bob

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by gravesb (967413)
        That's a really good point. The problem comes up with who sets the price for the patented part. The court? The bad-faith infringer who has an incentive to discount its worth? The inventor set a price higher than the infringer, or else there would some agreement. Taking away someone's ability to sell, or not sell, their property has some issues, at least in the US. Same issues that come up under the Takings Clause.
        • That's a really good point. The problem comes up with who sets the price for the patented part. [...] Taking away someone's ability to sell, or not sell, their property has some issues, at least in the US.

          Perhaps the problem is with considering knowledge and ideas to be "property" that can be owned by someone. Owning property implies some amount of absolute control over it, which is really quite absurd in cases like this.

          For instance, I tend to think that the "compulsory licensing" for music is bad terminology for a good idea -- it shouldn't be "copyright holder must license for $X amount", it should be "copyright holder can demand payment of up to $X amount". ie, only giving limited rights in the first

        • by Random832 (694525)

          The inventor set a price higher than the infringer, or else there would some agreement.
          This implies everyone has a price.
      • There is a problem with that. If I want to infringe your patent, I just follow this set of steps:
        1. Set up new company to manufacture the goods.
        2. License the new company some of my patents in exchange for 100% of profits.
        3. New company gets sued, but keeps on trading because there is no injunction.
        4. Use SCO-style legal tactics to keep the case tied up in court for a couple of years.
        5. Lose case, new company goes bankrupt, but has no assets so the inventor gets nothing from liquidation.
        6. Profit (??? not required).
      • by evilviper (135110)

        Instead, patent violation should be assessed only in the amount of money owed from one party to another,

        Patent licenses aren't sold off-the-shelf at the market down the street... The "amount of money owed" could be ANYTHING under the sun. The patent holder could just say they charge $1 million per device, and bankrupt a company. Of course the foreign company could refuse to pay, then an injunction is the only method to prevent future infringement.

        calculated as a reasonable fraction of the profit earned f

      • "It certainly harms the progress of useful arts to stop sales and/or development. Instead, patent violation should be assessed only in the amount of money owed from one party to another, calculated as a reasonable fraction of the profit earned from goods in violation of the patent."

        would the inventor also have to pay a percentage for a loss if the item fails to make a profit?

        / SARCASM

        Why of why do people like you not believe in the free market? This solves the situation far better than your assinine,

    • by Zeinfeld (263942) on Friday October 12, 2007 @08:05AM (#20951539) Homepage
      After the eBay v. Mercexchange case, injunctions are not automatic. The ITC could just award damages if it finds infringement, and not stop the flow of harddrives.

      This is an ITC action, not a patent infringement suit. The rules are very different and pretty corrupt.

      Back in the 1980s when the US feared it was losing its edge a series of bills was passed to create non-tariff barriers to high tech trade. At the time the US HI-tech companies were complaining that their ideas were being stolen. So they created a kangeroo-court process to allow US companies to block competing imports.

      Of course this started long before the effects of Reagans gutting of the USPTO review process were beginning to be realized. At the time a patent actually meant something.

      Regardless the drive manufacturers will settle. Just think of it as a private tax.

  • Smuggling (Score:4, Funny)

    by Dynamoo (527749) * on Friday October 12, 2007 @07:41AM (#20951353) Homepage
    Well, at least it will give the drug smugglers something to diversify into as they try to ship contraband hard drives across the US border. Although I'm not certain how well the "body cavity" approach would work... ouch.
  • ... SOLID STATE DISKS FOR EVERYONE!
    Maye also 3.5" floppies, but that's just wishful thinking, eh?
  • Could be good (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Fuzzypig (631915)
    I thought most of the big boys like EMC ( 30% of the worlds storage ), SUN, Dell, Compaq and HDS used plants in Mexico, if not then this could be good news other countries to get plants and increase employment in technology industries.
  • by The Evil Couch (621105) on Friday October 12, 2007 @07:49AM (#20951423) Homepage
    using this tech? If they started prior to 2001, the Reiber's should be taken out and flogged.

    Dissipative ceramic bonding tool tip
    Inventors: Reiber; Steven Frederick (Rocklin, CA), Reiber; Mary Louise (Linclon, CA)
    Appl. No.: 10/036,579
    Filed: December 31, 2001

    Dissipative ceramic bonding tool tip
    Inventors: Reiber; Steven-Frederick (Rocklin, CA), Reiber; Mary Louise (Lincoln, CA)
    Appl. No.: 10/650,169
    Filed: August 27, 2003
    • If you read the prior art sections, it's clear that they are describing an improvement on an existing technology/method used in manufacturing electronics (hard drives, referred to as "magnetic recording devices", are listed as a specific example).
    • So, this Dissipative ceramic bonding tool tip does exactly what in a hard drive?? Or is it in fact part of the machinery for manufacturing hard drives?? If the latter, how can the drives be banned from import?? Seems kinda ridiculous to ban a non-infringing object solely because it was created using an infringing machine/process. Hard disks can't be the only imports built using patent-infringing machines/processes...
  • because I've spent enough time whining about those
  • by loftwyr (36717) on Friday October 12, 2007 @07:52AM (#20951443)
    I'll set up an illegal hard drive smuggling ring! I'll be rich!

    It's perfect except for them Untouchables that will break open my liquor barrels looking for bootleg hard drives.
    • by Dunbal (464142)
      I'll set up an illegal hard drive smuggling ring! I'll be rich!

      And my "family" will allow people to encrypt and store their information offshore, via the internet. No hard drive required.

      Now, it would be a shame if anything "happened" to your data, wouldn't it? The Don has a little favor he'd like to ask you...
  • by Linker3000 (626634) on Friday October 12, 2007 @07:53AM (#20951449) Journal
    I am an IT Manager:

    Oh shit, Maxtor wasn't on the list - PLEASE GOD: please don't make system builders install Maxtor drives, I have enough to worry about without the possibility of random drive failures within the next 6 months - 2 years.

    I am an independent computer support engineer:

    YES! I look forward to a massive jump in hard disk replacement business within the next 6 months - 2 years.
    • by DAldredge (2353) <SlashdotEmail@GMail.Com> on Friday October 12, 2007 @08:20AM (#20951647) Journal
      One would think that an IT Manager (or consultant as line 1 doesn't mesh with line 3) who posts on /. would know that Maxtor was bought out by Seagate who is on the list.
      • by Dunbal (464142)
        One would think that an IT Manager (or consultant as line 1 doesn't mesh with line 3) who posts on /. would know that Maxtor was bought out by Seagate

        Yeah, hell, even _I_ knew that and I'm just a simple country doc.
    • Is there really a perceptible difference in the rate of failure from one manufacturer to another?

      Sure, if you've got a company that specializes in dirt-cheap OEM drives, it's not going to fare well next to one that specializes in uber-expensive Server drives...

      I remember there was a post a few years back, where IT managers basically swore off every single brand of drive because "they fail more often than the rest". Apart from single models with awful manufacturing defects (ie. the IBM DeathStars), I wouldn
  • by scsirob (246572) on Friday October 12, 2007 @07:56AM (#20951475)
    Maybe, by allowing these kinds of bans based on claims of litiguous bastards will finally get real patent reform going. It's just plain stupid that patents are allowed to cause damage like this.
  • by tjstork (137384) <todd...bandrowsky@@@gmail...com> on Friday October 12, 2007 @08:07AM (#20951553) Homepage Journal
    This case is a clearcut proof that the patent system doesn't protect the little guy and the little guy hitting it big with a patent is a total myth.

    By all rights, the law that the article refers to is designed to ensure that the little guy has another means of recorse to protect his or her patent. But instead, these companies are going to find a judge that kinda agrees with them, and they will be allowed to import these drives despite the patent violation.

    Of course, the right thing to do would be to change patent law so that this sort of infringement is something everyone is allowed to do. But oh no, we still want to leave the patent laws on the books, to protect the big guy, from guess who, the small guy.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Because it would immediately force your Congress to reform your idiotic laws on patents.

    The economic impact would be huge and nobody would be able to ignore that.

    Your patent regime is now a threat to global economic prosperity and so reform is vital.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      Economic impact?? How about if they settle for a $1 "license" per imported disk?? That would quickly add up to a nice retirement fund for the patent holder without being a very big hardship to anyone buying the disks.
  • You hear all the time about drug runners being busted while bringing in their contraband from Mexico. If this goes through, we'll start seeing a bunch of pasty white guys busted for smuggling in Maxtors.
    • You hear all the time about drug runners being busted while bringing in their contraband from Mexico. If this goes through, we'll start seeing a bunch of pasty white guys busted for smuggling in Maxtors.

      True geeks know that the best way to smuggle is to build your own UAV's.

    • by deniable (76198)
      They'll just declare a war on drives and form the DEA, the Drive Enforcement Administration. Or they could add it to something else and have the BATFED. I kinda like that one.
  • It'll give our domestic hard drive manufacturers a welcome respite from international competition.
  • Oh, the high seas of corporate wars, battles, and domination.

    Patents are kind of a joke these days -- they are mostly used by big corporations duking it out for leverage in the market place. Rarely are these battles of any merit beyond that.

    And well, I should know, being a patent holder... oh well.

  • by iknownuttin (1099999) on Friday October 12, 2007 @08:52AM (#20952003)
    I'm seeing a lot of posts here about the evils of patents and how they stifle innovation. They don't. And unfortunately, folks forget the story about the inventors of the MRI machine.

    These guys spent decades and millions of dollars of their own and investors' money creating this machine. When they get it to market, General Electric and Hitachi just steals the idea and markets it. Pretty much destroying the company that was started by the inventors. They then sued over another decade or so finally getting a settlement. IF they just sat back, others would have profited off of their work. That's an injustice if I've ever seen one!

    Without the inventor with the hopes of making it big and getting a return to their investors, they WILL BE NO INCENTIVE TO INNOVATE. Some of the MRI Story [about.com]. (Wikipedia has some of the business stuff wrong)

    more history [columbia.edu]

    I don't care about the very few patent trolls or whatever, I know there's abuse, but we shouldn't throw the baby out with the bath water.

    • Prove it (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Tony (765)
      Without the inventor with the hopes of making it big and getting a return to their investors, they WILL BE NO INCENTIVE TO INNOVATE.

      One anecdote about patents and MRI invention does not prove this point. The truth is, there are *plenty* of incentives to "innovate" (whatever that means anymore), not the least of which is just for the sheer joy of discovery.

      But even with the MRI: their invention did not spring whole cloth from their foreheads. They too stood on the shoulders of giants, and other pithy phrases
  • by gmarsh (839707) on Friday October 12, 2007 @10:05AM (#20953109)
    I read the patents. There is absolutely nothing in this patent which is related to hard drives in any specific way. And there's nothing that hard drive makers themselves have uniquely done to violate this patent themselves. This patent applies to *ANY* semiconductor chip. What they've patented here is part of the chip packaging process. When chips are packaged, the silicon die is placed in the center of the IC package, and wires are run between the individual leads on the outside of the package to bond areas on the silicon. These wires are welded at each end by ultrasonic welding using a tiny vibrating probe. Now if you've got a probe flying around doing all this welding work, there's a slight chance it might accumulate some static electricity - and since the probe is touching the silicon die directly it might fry the chip you're trying to pacakge. This isn't a good thing so you ground the probe. But that's not a good thing either; if the chip itself becomes static charged, touching it with a grounded probe might fry it too. So you insert a bit of resistance to limit the discharge current - this is why static wrist straps and static mats, the ESD soldering iron on my desk and so forth have a certain amount of resistance. Their patent is "make that resistance in the chip bonding probe out of ceramic". Which I suppose has some advantages. *shrug* So the actual patent violation works like this: - A semiconductor company (eg. ST, TSMC) fabricates semiconductor chips for hard drives. - A packaging company (eg. Amkor) takes these chips, cuts them off wafers and packages them. Perhaps they use a ceramic bond probe to do this, violating the patent. - The semiconductor company gets the chips back and sells them to the hard drive maker. - The hard drive manufacturer then builds hard drives out of these chips. And somehow the hard drive manufacturer is at fault here, and hard drive imports suddenly have to stop. They don't even directly use the patent - I'm sure they don't give two shits about how the wires are bonded in the chips they use and until know they probably knew nothing about it. If the chip reads stuff off the heads and sends it out the (S)ATA interface, what else do they care about? (But of course, I'm sure by some perverted interpretation of the law, hard drive makers are using the patent and they're liable...) Of course, I'm next in line to get sued. I've sold electronics kits on the internet, and the last one used an ATMega48 microcontroller. If that chip was wirebonded in violation of this patent then I'm obviously the one at fault (not Atmel or whoever) and I gotta pay up! And after that, my friend who drives a cab part time will get sued for patent violation - his car's engine computer could contain a chip that was was wirebonded the same way, and he's making money driving the car and "using" the patent, right? fuck...
  • by krunk7 (748055) on Friday October 12, 2007 @05:53PM (#20960721)
    Here's why. Company Y files a patent in country X. Company A located in country B sees patent, but could give a shit less. Company A copies product adding a few innovations to make it better and then sells the superior product for less to every country except X.

    Who loses out in this scenario? Every company in country X except Y. Since there, the technology is completely off limits.

    You want a lock on your tech, keep it a trade secret. If it's easily backwards engineered and mass produced, it probably wasn't that huge a leap anyway.

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