Seagate settles bogus class action

I heard of this news from Computerworld via Slashdot via Greg Laden. This is a case where the only winners will be the lawyers who filed the class action lawsuit. Basically Seagate was sued because they use the industry standard units of measurement that follow SI rules.

This is actually the third time the data storage industry has been hit with class action suits over units of measurement. The problems started when computer guys got past the 1000 mark for the various units of measurement in computers. The computer industry decided on their own to take the SI prefixes , re-define them and use the re-defined prefixes for their units of measurement. While this did create confusion it wasn’t too bad when only kilo was commonly used because 1000 and 1024 are only 2.4% different. Once we started to frequently use the re-defined mega and giga prefixes things became worse (mega 4.9% and giga 7.4% differences). The IEEE recognized this was going to get rapidly worse (tera is 10% different) so in the late 90’s they introduced IEEE 1541 to provide unambiguous prefixes for the binary units of measurement. Soon other standards bodies (IEC, CENELEC, CIPM, NIST, and SAE) endorsed the new binary units and that should have been the end of the troubles.

The first class action suit was against flash media manufacturers:

On February 20, 2004, Willem Vroegh filed a lawsuit against Lexar Media, Dane-Elec Memory, Fuji Photo Film USA, Eastman Kodak Company, Kingston Technology Company, Inc., Memorex Products, Inc.; PNY Technologies Inc., SanDisk Corporation, Verbatim Corporation, and Viking InterWorks alleging that their descriptions of the capacity of their flash memory cards were false and misleading.

The manufacturers agreed to clarify the flash memory card capacity on the packaging and web sites.[1] The consumers could apply for “a discount of ten percent off a future online purchase from Defendants’ Online Stores Flash Memory Device”.[52]

The law firms Gutride Safier, LLP and Milberg Weiss received $2.4 million.

The next year Western Digital was hit and here’s some interesting information from the settlement agreement.

They paid $500,000 in fees and expenses to San Francisco lawyers Adam Gutride and Seth Safier, who filed the suit.

The lawyers get the lions share of the cash, what’s new šŸ˜¦

Surely Western Digital cannot be blamed for how software companies use the term “gigabyte” a binary usage which, according to Plaintiff’s complaint, ignores both the historical meaning of the term and the teachings of the industry standards bodies. In describing its HDD’s, Western Digital uses the term properly. Western Digital cannot be expected to reform the software industry.[2] Furthermore, there is no conceivable reason that consumers would perceive the size of Western Digital’s HDD’s as different in any respect from the size of other HDD’s on the market. All major HDD manufacturers offer HDD’s in the same, industry standard, decimal-defined storage capacities (e.g., 80 GB, 120 GB, 250 GB). Thus, a consumer buying an HDD is comparing decimal gigabytes from one HDD company to decimal gigabytes from another HDD company regardless of what software companies may be doing. Accordingly, price and reliability, not storage capacity nomenclature, are determinative of a customer’s decision to purchase from one HDD manufacturer over another. In short, Plaintiff’s claims are merit less.

I personally think someone should file suit against Microsoft for still using the re-defined unit prefixes in their OS’s. I guess the lawyers who put these suits together realize that they’d have a really hard time going after the big $$$ company that is actually abusing the standards so, they go after the smaller guys who are actually following the SI standard.

Notwithstanding the fecklessness of Plaintiff’s claims, Western Digital recognizes not only the inherent risks and uncertainties of litigation, but also that the litigation would be an undesirable distraction and would require significant investment in employee time, attorneys’ fees, and costs. Taking into account these considerations and Western Digital’s desire to put this matter to rest, Western Digital believes that settlement on the terms set forth in the Settlement Agreement is in its best interests.

Par for the course in a US civil case, it usually is far cheaper to settle than to go to trial and prove you are right. šŸ˜¦

[2] Apparently, Plaintiff believes that he could sue an egg company for fraud for labeling a carton of 12 eggs a “dozen”,Ā because some bakers would view a “dozen” as including 13 items.

I love this footnote they stuck in the agreement, watch out egg producing industries they can get you next. šŸ˜‰

As to this recent case, Seagate had to settle to limit how much cash they loose. From the Settlement Agreement :

Awards attorney’s fees of up to $1.8 million.

Yep the lawyers are the big winners again. šŸ˜¦ I wish that by simply following standards manufacturers could avoid these class action suits but sadly that is not the case in the USA.