Steve Jobs, the late founder of Apple, was described as the “CEO of war” taking into account his fierce fights over intellectual property. In 2011, he famously threatened to “spend every penny” of the company’s US$40 billion to “go thermonuclear war” to beat Samsung Electronics and other Android smartphone makers. Apple too had legal entanglements with Nokia, HTC, and even Singapore’s homegrown Creative Technologies.

But even before this clash of the titans, a similar, albeit smaller, chain of events was playing out at Trek 2000 International, a homegrown tech company. Trek 2000 may not be a global name, but the thumb drive, which was created by the company, is certainly well known. As suggested by the name, the thumb drive is no bigger than a thumb. Also known as the flash drive or USB stick, it marries the ubiquitous USB interface with a tiny memory chip to store a much bigger volume of data than CDs, floppy discs and other forms of preceding portable storage media.

Thanks to its usefulness and design, the thumb drive was quickly copied around the world. Wayne Tan, Trek 2000’s president and executive director, recalls how his father Henn, who was heading the company then, tried to enforce its intellectual property rights through the courts. However, this was a much more costly process as legal fees ate into the company’s funds and resources that could have been channelled into R&D to generate new growth instead.

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