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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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  • 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.
  • 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 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
  • 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.

  • by Arabani (1127547) on Friday October 12, 2007 @08:07AM (#20951557)
    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).
  • Re:useful arts (Score:3, Informative)

    by monkeySauce (562927) on Friday October 12, 2007 @08:29AM (#20951739) Journal
    You mean Wright brothers. []
  • by Saunalainen (627977) on Friday October 12, 2007 @08:46AM (#20951907)

    It promotes science when everyone suddenly has to find a way to work around the patent.

    Your reasoning is an example of the fallacy of the broken window. []

    This is not good for `science', because in the absence of the patent issue companies would be free to direct their R&D to whatever technology they wanted, rather than solving an already-solved problem.

  • Don't Panic (Score:2, Informative)

    by Eldragon (163969) on Friday October 12, 2007 @09:12AM (#20952269)
    We don't know many facts in this case.

    There are still several Hard Drive factories left in the US. In fact, my hometown has a very large one (Hitachi). Even if Imports are banned, we will still have domestic production. Since every hard drive manufacturer on the planet was not listed in the suit, I can only assume the companies not listed are not violating the patent.
  • Re:useful arts (Score:4, Informative)

    by bleh-of-the-huns (17740) on Friday October 12, 2007 @09:43AM (#20952725)
    Actually, in many cases they do not make any changes to the drug at all, but rather find a new purpose that allows them to refile (ie initially a cold medicine, then repurposed to include allergy medication).

    I would not be surprised if they know exactly what a medication can cover, but choose to only advertise it for one purpose till the patent is about to expire, then miraculously find a new problem to solve and get the patent extended...
  • Re:useful arts (Score:2, Informative)

    by fattmatt (1042156) on Friday October 12, 2007 @10:04AM (#20953097)
    from Patent #6,651,864:

    wire bonding electrical connections to bonding pads on integrated circuit chips and packages
    from Ars Tec Article:

    These parts are used to bond electrical wires within the hard drive
    Seems as though the patents are not specific to "magnetic" drive featuress but the electric connections, which may be in both magentic and SSD drives.
  • 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...
  • Re:useful arts (Score:2, Informative)

    by jon287 (977520) on Friday October 12, 2007 @10:19AM (#20953341)

    Yes because it's so much better to sink piles of money into R&D only to have some other company copy the technology and sell it for less due to their not having to recoup the R&D costs.

    Yes because it is so much better to sink piles of money into R&D only to have some patent troll extort all of your profits because he bought a decade old patent for $100 that reads like "doing something cool using a COMPUTER!"

    There, I slashdot-ized that for you.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 12, 2007 @10:51AM (#20953921)
    Re: 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.

    You bet they know how those die are bonded. That's a VERY important aspect of parts reliability, and no hard disk mfr making millions of widgets is going to be cavalier about the parts they use to the point of considering them as commodity jellybeans.

    If for no other reason than it's likely that those chips are actually the drive mfrs intellectual property (i.e. custom ASICs).

    Sure, the casual low volume user of parts as commodity items (like your kits) isn't going to care, but someone buying them by the million, and concerned about yield, certainly does.
  • Re:useful arts (Score:3, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 12, 2007 @11:44AM (#20954885)
    While George _Cayley_ did contribute massively to the development of aeronautic theory, he never built an aeroplane that was both powered and manned.

    The Wright brothers certainly did not "invent" the aeroplane, and I don't think that they would have claimed to have invented it either. What they did, that no-one before them had done, was make the aeroplane a practical device. The Wright's concept of "3 axis control", and its practical implementation, was a huge step forward in aviation and the Flyers benefited from it.

    It's not that the Wrights were the first in flight, it's that they were the first in manned, powered, _controlled_ flight. Even Gustave Whitehead's machine, which by most accounts did fly under its own power with a man on board, was not fully controlled. Roll was dependent on the pilot throwing his body around and yaw was only crudely controlled by varying the speeds of the twin propellers. The Wright system of wing warping to control roll, with a coordinated rudder to control yaw, and a movable aileron to control pitch was revolutionary at the time.
  • Re:useful arts (Score:3, Informative)

    by Tyger (126248) on Friday October 12, 2007 @07:57PM (#20961851)
    The only difference between a glider and an airplane is the glider doesn't have an engine, so it doesn't fly under it's own power. Modern gliders still use the same sort of flight control surfaces as airplanes. They are designed slightly differently to optimize lift at low speeds, but other than that, the only difference is a source of power. In fact, if an airplane (Even a jet like a 737) loses engine power, it just becomes a poor glider, and can still land safely with a skilled pilot.

    So, their innovation was the predecessor to modern flight control surfaces. It wasn't exactly what we use now. Wing warping has been replaced by elevators and ailerons. But it is the same basic principal of operation.

Thus spake the master programmer: "When a program is being tested, it is too late to make design changes." -- Geoffrey James, "The Tao of Programming"