Trek 2000 International Limited is the Singaporean company that created the ThumbDrive, a thumb-sized universal serial bus (USB) data storage device which revolutionised the way digital data is stored and transferred in personal computers.1 Headquartered in Singapore’s Loyang Industrial Estate, the public-listed company has offices in many parts of the world.2 It was included in Forbes’s list of Best Small Companies in the World in 2000 and 2002, and named Best Managed Small Company in Singapore by AsiaMoney in 2003.3 In 2016, the ThumbDrive was named as one of the top 50 engineering achievements in Singapore since 1965.4
Trek was a family-owned electronic components trading business until 1995 when it was bought over by then chief executive officer and chairman Henn Tan for S$1 million to provide customised engineering solutions to businesses.5 Focusing on developing innovative design solutions for the digital industry, specifically in the areas of mobile data transfer and storage technology, Tan and his engineers explored ways to use the USB interface to create a device that could replace the floppy disk. Within a year, Tan and his team developed the now ubiquitous ThumbDrive.6
In addition to the aforementioned accolades from Forbes and AsiaMoney, Trek also received the INVENT Singapore Award in 2008, the ASEAN Business Award for Innovation in 2011, the Asia-Pacific Enterprise Leadership Awards for Spirit of Innovation Award in 2013, and the SD Association Leadership Award in 2014.7
Trek launched the ThumbDrive in 2000 at the CeBIT international trade fair for information technology and telecommunications solutions held in Germany. Response to the product was overwhelming, even though Trek’s booth was modestly decorated.8
The success of the ThumbDrive propelled Trek onto the global arena. The company grew from a five-man outfit into a global enterprise with offices in nine countries, including the United States, the Netherlands, Japan, India, China and the Philippines. Multinational companies such as Toshiba, Lenovo and Imation were among its clients.9
The ThumbDrive is a thumb-sized external portable data storage device that uses flash memory technologies to store digital data.10 It provides convenient plug-and-play capabilities and can be connected directly to a computer via the USB port without a need for cables. It does not require a battery and, instead, derives its power through the USB connection. To the computer user, the ThumbDrive functions like another hard disk drive. It allows the user to drag-and-drop, read, create or delete digital files as easily as using a normal computer hard drive. Some of the newer models also come with advanced technological features, such as biometric fingerprint authentication, data encryption and data compression functions.11
Without movable parts, the ThumbDrive is considered to be more robust and durable than a floppy disk and thus ideal for use as a mobile storage device. It has replaced the floppy disk as the default portable storage medium in personal computers.12
The immense interest and popularity of the ThumbDrive led to a proliferation of similar devices in many parts of the world shortly after its launch.13 There were also competing claims to the invention of the device.14 For example, Chinese company Netac Technology claimed to have invented the USB flash drive.15
After Trek’s ThumbDrive patent was approved by the Intellectual Property Office of Singapore in April 2002,16 it commenced legal action against four companies that infringed on its patent in Singapore. The High Court of Singapore ruled in favour of Trek in 2005.17
To protect its intellectual property rights for the ThumbDrive outside of Singapore, Trek had to progressively obtain patent protection in other countries since patents are valid and enforceable only within the granting country. While Trek has since successfully obtained patents for the ThumbDrive in many countries worldwide, patent application is a lengthy and tedious process.18 For instance, Trek’s patent for its portable USB data storage device was revoked by the United Kingdom Patent Office in 2006.19
Beyond the ThumbDrive
Besides the ThumbDrive, Trek has developed other data storage products with more security and capacity. The company also provides customised engineering design solutions based on its clients’ requirements.20
With its strong focus on research and development, Trek owns various patents for its inventions.21 On 20 January 2010, the company unveiled its innovation called the FluCard, which took more than six years to develop at a cost of US$6 million (S$8.3 million). A secure digital memory card, FluCard enables direct wireless transfer of image and video files between various electronic devices.22 In 2014, the FluCard was granted patent protection in major international markets for 20 years.23
Financial offences by Trek 2000 executives
In 2016, Trek 2000’s auditors, Ernst & Young, lodged a report with Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority for inconsistencies in a client’s identity.24 The subsequent investigation by Commercial Affairs Department revealed that Henn Tan and three other senior executives of the company had created a fake client and deal and forged documents, in order to boost the company’s revenue figures for financial year 2015 and hence its financial standing. For these offences, Henn Tan and the executives were fined and sentenced to jail.25
1. Jeremy Au Yong, “The Drive to Succeed,” Straits Times, 8 January 2006, 7. (From NewspaperSG)
2. “Regional Office,” Trek 2000 International Ltd, accessed 28 August 2023.
3. “About Us,” Trek 2000 International Ltd, accessed 10 February 2014.
4. Trek 2000 International Ltd, “Trek’s Proprietary ThumbDrive™ Recognised as One of Top 50 Engineering Achievements in Singapore at IES-SG50 Awards,” press release, 7 July 2016.
5. Akshita Nanda, “Trek Record,” Straits Times, 24 January 2011, 4 (From NewspaperSG); Trek 2000 International Ltd, “About Us.”
6. Trek 2000 International Ltd, “About Us”; Chia Yan Min, “Thumb Drive Creator’s Back... with the Flucard,” Straits Times, 30 July 2013, 13; Au Yong, “Drive to Succeed”. (From NewspaperSG)
7. Trek 2000 International Ltd, “About Us.”
8. Au Yong, “Drive to Succeed.”
9. “Partners,” Trek 2000 International Ltd, accessed 28 August 2023; Irene Tham, “ThumbDrive Founder’s Crusade against Copycats,” Straits Times, 19 June 2011, 8. (From NewspaperSG)
10. Au Yong, “Drive to Succeed.”
11. Mike Lee, “Thumbs Up for Thumb Drives,” Straits Times, 15 August 2004, 38. (From NewspaperSG)
12. Lee, “Thumbs Up for Thumb Drives.”
13. Lee, “Thumbs Up for Thumb Drives.”
14. Tham, “ThumbDrive Founder’s Crusade.”
15. “Company Profile,” Netac Technology Co., Ltd, accessed 2016.
16. Serena Ng, “Trek Sues Several Firms for Breach of Patent,” Business Times, 6 November 2002, 4. (From NewspaperSG)
17. Au Yong, “Drive to Succeed.”
18. Andy Ho, “Protecting Patent an Uphill Trek,” Straits Times, 13 January 2006, 30; Audrey Tan, “Trek 2000 Clinches $17M Contract from Japan's Teac,” Straits Times, 17 March 2004, 17. (From NewspaperSG)
19. “Patent Decision,” Intellectual Property Office of the United Kingdom, accessed 28 August 2023.
20. “Storage,” Trek 2000 International Ltd, accessed 12 October 2023; Trek 2000 International Ltd, “About Us.”
21. Chang Chieh Hang, Raj Thampuran and Teck Seng Low, The Singapore Research Story (Singapore: World Scientific, 2016), 192–93. (Call no. RSING 330.95957 SIN)
22. Chua Hian Hou, “S’pore-Made Wireless Camera Memory Card,” Straits Times, 21 January 2010, 2 (From NewspaperSG); Chia, “Thumb Drive Creator’s Back.”
23. “Trek Gets Patent for FluCard,” Business Times, 11 February 2014, 12. (From NewspaperSG)
24. Melissa Tan, “Trek 2000’s Auditors Lodge Report with ACRA,” Business Times, 27 April 2016, 8; Andrea Soh, “Trek’s CFO Interviewed in CAD Probe,” Business Times, 26 May 2016, 9. (From NewspaperSG)
25. Samuel Sashant Devaraj, “Jail for Former Division Head of Thumb Drive Inventor Trek 2000 for Cheating, Falsifying Accounts,” Straits Times, 8 May 2023. (From Factiva via NLB’s eResources website)
The information in this article is valid as of August 2023 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.
The information on this page and any images that appear here may be used for private research and study purposes only. They may not be copied, altered or amended in any way without first gaining the permission of the copyright holder.