StorageTek, Quantum File Cross-Suits Alleging Patent Infringement

Quantum shot first with a patent infringement complaint in the Northern District of California accusing StorageTek of being "engaged in the unlawful manufacture and sale within the United States of tape and tape drive products that infringe two separate Quantum patents," company officials said in a statement.

Shortly thereafter, StorageTek lobbed back a similar suit in the U.S. District Court in Denver, according to StorageTek officials.

For Michael Fanelli, western regional manager for Metuchen, N.J.-based Sales Strategies, the cross-suits are not worth worrying about too much. "If it was really serious, I'd probably be concerned," he said. "But lawsuits happen today at the drop of a hat. So they don't have the effect they might have had a few years ago."

Tape technology lawsuits just are not major issues, said Fanelli. "It's tape drive technology," he said. "By the time they settle it, there'll be two new generations of technology."

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Mark Roellig, vice president and general counsel of StorageTek, said that his company's patents deal with optical technology related to tape positioning. "In 2000, we received a patent for unique technology related to tape positioning," he said. "When Quantum came out with its Super DLT products, we became aware that those tape drives, in our view, violated our patents."

StorageTek advised Quantum that it is violating the patents, and asked Quantum to either pay royalties or stop production, said Roellig.

On Tuesday, the day the second patent in question was issued, Quantum filed what Roellig called "frivolous" cases against StorageTek. "One of the patents was for old technology, technology we haven't used for 15 years," he said. "The other was for tape reels which, in our view, we were not in violation. There has been prior art from many vendors for years on that."

StorageTek has asked for an injunction and damages from Quantum, said Roellig. He said it could take up to a year before a ruling is issued on the injunction, depending on how fast the courts move.

John Gannon, president of Quantum's DLTtape Group, said there is still not much to say as the two sides are still feeling each other out this early in the process.

Gannon said Quantum and StorageTek have been in discussions for some time about the intellectual property issues each side feels is important and were hoping to settle them amicably.

"But there's always some risk when you are trying to negotiate a position and feel the other party wants to get there first," he said.

Quantum is seeking an injunction, damages for infringements and payment of attorney fees, said Gannon. He did not comment on whether Quantum will seek damages.

Rivalry between the two tape automation and drive vendors intensified last September when Hewlett-Packard ended its long-term reselling of tape libraries OEMed from StorageTek in favor of libraries from Quantum. The Quantum relationship came with HP's acquisition of Compaq.

Quantum last June settled patent and royalty cross-suits out of court with Imation. Imation had alleged that Quantum illegally prevented Imation from licensing DLTtape media technology, while Quantum alleged that Imation was manufacturing DLTtape-compatible media with Quantum technology illegally. In that case, both sides agreed to drop their lawsuits. Quantum agreed to speed up the process by which Imation could get its tape qualified as well as pay Imation $5 million over an 18-month period.