Seagate has filed a patent infringement lawsuit against storage vendor Cornice, alleging its one-inch Storage Element mini-hard drives violate six of Seagate's patents.

The patents cover a variety of technologies used by the devices, including the guiding system for the actuator arm that scans the surface of the disk for data, said Seagate spokesman Brian Ziel. Cornice's drives are used in MP3 players by a number of companies, including iRiver and Digitalway.

The lawsuit, which was filed on Tuesday in Delaware, seeks to prevent Cornice from "making, using, importing, offering to sell, or selling the allegedly infringing products in the United States", as well as unspecified monetary damages. Cornice has declined to comment.

"We believe very strongly in competing in the marketplace based on the innovation, reliability, performance and quality of our products," said Bill Watkins, Seagate president. "However, we cannot allow the competitive advantage we've established through our long-term investment in R&D to be unfairly attacked by those who would illegally infringe on our technology portfolio and intellectual property."

Of course, the timing of the world's largest disc drive manufacturer suing one of the world's smallest has nothing to do with the fact that Seagate is planning to launch its own one-inch mini-drive in the third quarter of this year.

The company unveiled the drive at an event in Tokyo earlier this month and will offer it in two versions: one for embedded use and one in a Compact Flash case. It will be available in two capacities: 2.5GB and 5GB. The Storage Element drives from Cornice are available in 1GB and 2GB versions.

Hitachi this week also pointed to one-inch drives as a huge market of the future when it announced it was building a vast $500 million factory in China to prepare for an expected boom in consumer products using hard drives.