Nidec takes Seagate out for a patent spin

Nidec, the dominant maker of spindle motors for hard disk drives, is suing its Seagate, its biggest customer, in a patent spat

The Japanese manufacturer alleges in a suit filed in Delaware on Jan 18 that Seagate’s 2TB BarraCuda ST200LM15 and 16TB IronWolf Pro ST16000NE00 HDD infringe its US patents. The drives use motors supplied by Minebea, which has a cross-licensing agreement with Nidec.

Nidec is seeking judgment to stop Seagate using its IP unlawfully, selling the named products, damages, pre- and post-judgment interest, and an award for costs and fees.

The company declared in a statement: “Nidec has expanded its HDD-business all over the world, and views its intellectual property as a significantly valuable corporate asset. Nidec will continue to strictly and properly pursue the protection of its intellectual property rights whenever infringement is identified.”

Hub and spindle

Disk drives platters are fastened to a central hub and spindle which contains a motor turning the spindle. The platters revolve at speeds between 5,400 and 10,000rpm and the thinner the motor the more platters can fit inside an enclosure.

Nidec supplies motors to the world’s three HDD suppliers – Seagate, Western Digital and Toshiba. The company claims 85 per cent market share, with competitor Minebea Mitsumi in second place.

Exploded view of hard disk drive showing spindle motor

A bit more about Nidec

In its annual report for the year ending March 31, 2020, Nidec stated: “The HDD motor business is an important business that supports our revenue base, and accounts for a significant proportion of our revenue.”

: “Net sales of Nidec Corporation decreased ¥32,649 million to ¥183,036 million for the year ended March 31, 2020 compared to the year ended March 31, 2019. This decrease was due to a decrease in sales of hard disk drives spindle motors and other small precision motors.”

In particular it said; “Net sales of spindle motors for HDDs for this fiscal year decreased 12.2 per cent to ¥157,240 million compared to the previous fiscal year. The number of units sold of spindle motors for HDDs decreased approximately 18.7 per cent compared to the previous fiscal year.”