The question of who invented the flash drive has a murky answer. It's clouded by a confusing timeline and patents that span nearly every continent. In an effort to sort out some of these unknowns, we're taking a look at two of the companies that sought to gain credit for the concept.
Trek Technology is a tech company based in Singapore. They're also known as Trek 2000 International Ltd. Trek lays claim to the creation of the flash drive; they're also the first to call it a 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 over the years. They 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 regarding their products, and also found problems with how their patent was worded.
The second company laying claim to inventing flash drives is Netac, a consumer electronics OEM company based out of Shenzhen. Shenzhen is a Special Economic Zone of China that has a heavy focus on technology assembly and manufacturing. Flash drives, external HDDs, SSDs, MP3s and more comprise its main 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 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 as part of the market competition, it helps to spur on further innovations and improvements that makes the storage device what it is today. From its humble beginnings as an 8MB digital storage device 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 can 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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