Who Invented the Flash Drive Part 3

By · Tuesday, August 16th, 2011

USB thumb drive invention The question, who invented the flash drive, has a murky answer—clouded by a confusing timeline and patents that span nearly every continent.  In an effort to sort out some of the unknowns, we round out our flash drive invention blog article series by detailing two companies who sought to gain credit for the concept.

Trek Technology is a Singaporean tech company also known as Trek 2000 International Ltd.  Trek lays claim to the creation of the flash drive and was also the first to call it by a name we’ve all heard: the thumb drive.  Trek officially released the ThumbDrive to the commercial market in 2000, the same year as IBM released its product.

Trek has made strides to fiercely guard its ThumbDrive patent and even won a lawsuit in Singapore to maintain it.  However, an overseas court ended up revoking the company’s patent for the UK amid claims that Trek lacked full disclosure of certain facts as well as how the patent was worded.

Netac is a consumer electronics OEM company based out of Shenzhen, a Special Economic Zone of China with a heavy focus on technology assembly and manufacturing.  Flash drives, external HDDs, SSDs, MP3s and more comprise its product offerings.

According to the company, it invented the USB flash drive in 1999, the same year that Netac was established.  The company claims to have applied for its 8MB device’s Chinese patent in December of that year.  The Netac product, OnlyDisk USB flash drive was launched in 2002, which makes it more of a late bloomer into the market.  (IBM had released their flash drive version in 2000 while Phison did it in 2001).

Nonetheless, Netac holds steady to its assertion as the first USB drive creator.  What’s more, Netac has taken measures to guard its other intellectual property by filing patent charges against name brands like Lenovo, Sony, PNY and more.  Over a dozen companies (including Huaqi) opposed this patent because USB and flash memory was a natural, “obvious” combination to industry experts.

In spite of patents and lawsuits surrounding the USB flash drive, innovation and production thrives with more companies than ever a part of the market competition to help make the storage device what it is today.  From humble beginnings of 8MB digital storage in a basic rectangular chassis, it has evolved into a true custom USB drive.

Today, it’s easy to find a 16GB, 32GB or 64GB flash drive equipped with AES encryption and packaged in a cutting edge design.  How we use a flash drive has also changed since the days of storing just a few Word documents.  Now, they boot systems, run diagnostics and store entire HD movies.  Promotional flash drives have also found a niche as an ideal 21st century vehicle to effectively deliver an array of marketing materials to a digitally driven audience.  It proves there are no limits to what the next decade of USB flash drive breakthroughs will bring.

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