Who is credited with inventing the USB flash drive?

USB flash drives, also known as USB drives or thumb drives, are small portable data storage devices that connect to computers via a USB port. They allow users to easily store, transfer, and back up digital files like documents, photos, videos, and more. While cloud storage has become popular in recent years, USB drives continue to offer unique advantages like privacy, portability, no internet connection required, and robustness.

The invention of USB flash drives in the late 1990s revolutionized portable data storage and transfer. For the first time, large amounts of data could be carried around in one’s pocket and quickly transferred between devices with plug-and-play simplicity. This new technology had major impacts on computing and storage, enabling new usage scenarios and capabilities. USB flash drives became an essential, ubiquitous accessory for students, professionals, and average consumers alike.

The Invention of USB

The Universal Serial Bus (USB) standard was developed in the mid-1990s to create a universal interface for connecting peripherals to computers. At the time, there were many different standards for connecting keyboards, mice, printers, scanners, and other devices. This led to confusion and compatibility issues as computers often lacked the right ports for certain peripherals. (1)

In 1994, a group of seven leading technology companies formed the USB Implementers Forum to create a standard interface that could connect all types of peripherals. The companies involved were Intel, Microsoft, IBM, NEC, Nortel, Compaq and DEC. (2)

The USB 1.0 specification was released in January 1996. It provided data rates up to 12 Mbit/s and supported both isochronous and asynchronous data transfers. This allowed connectivity for keyboards, mice, joysticks, printers, scanners, modems, and storage devices. While initially slow, USB provided the base for further innovation and development. (1)

(1) https://www.cuidevices.com/blog/the-history-of-usb-standards-from-1-to-usb4
(2) https://www.techtarget.com/whatis/feature/The-history-of-USB-What-you-need-to-know

Pioneers Behind USB Flash Drives

The USB flash drive traces its origins back to the mid-1990s when a number of companies and engineers were working on solid-state storage devices with a USB interface. Some of the early pioneers in USB flash drive technology include:

In 1994, a Silicon Valley startup called Trek Technology developed the ThumbDrive, which is considered by many to be the first USB flash drive prototype. The ThumbDrive had a storage capacity of 8MB and implemented many of the key features of modern USB drives like plug-and-play and hot swapping capabilities. However, the ThumbDrive never made it to the commercial market due to patent issues and lack of funding (https://www.usbmakers.com/history-of-the-usb-flash-drive).

M-Systems, an Israeli tech company founded by Dov Moran, was another early innovator in USB flash drive technology. In 1999, M-Systems introduced the DiskOnKey which was one of the first commercial USB flash drives sold to the public. The original DiskOnKey had a storage capacity of 8MB (https://www.usbmemorydirect.com/blog/history-of-usb-flash-drives/).

IBM and Lexar Media also developed some of the earliest USB flash drives in 1999-2000. Lexar’s JumpDrive had capacities between 8MB-64MB and implemented security features like password protection (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/USB_flash_drive).

These companies and engineers paved the way for the USB flash drive to become the ubiquitous portable storage solution it is today. Their technical innovations in solid-state and USB technology brought reliable, rewritable and compact external storage to the mass consumer market.

First Commercial USB Flash Drives

The first commercially available USB flash drive was the 8 MB USB Flash Drive released by Trek Technology in 2000 (https://www.quora.com/Who-invented-the-pen-drive-and-in-which-country). Trek Technology was a Singaporean company founded by Henn Tan, Cheng Yong Eng, and Ajay Bhatia. They developed the thumb drive technology and began selling their 8MB model in early 2000 through a distribution deal with IBM.

Trek Technology’s USB flash drive offered a storage capacity of 8MB and transfer speeds up to 1 Mb/second, priced at $29. It provided a convenient and portable way to transfer files between computers using the new USB ports that were becoming standard. The small size and affordability made USB drives widespread among consumers and businesses. By the end of 2000, over 100,000 Trek USB flash drives had been sold (https://www.manifest-tech.com/ce_products/flash_revolution.htm).

Other companies like Lexar and Memorex soon followed Trek’s lead and released their own USB flash drives. The storage capacity and transfer speeds of USB drives steadily improved over the next few years. By 2004, USB flash drives with capacities up to 4GB were available as the devices gained mainstream popularity worldwide.

Patenting the USB Flash Drive

The early years of the USB flash drive saw several companies file for patents related to the new technology. One of the pioneers was Trek Technology. In 1995, Trek filed a patent application for a “system and method for automatically identifying and configuring computer hardware and device drivers” (1). This laid the groundwork for their flash drive products.

In 1999, Trek Technology was awarded U.S. Patent 5,844,782 titled “Portable storage device with universal serial bus.” This seminal patent covered key aspects of USB flash drive operation and established Trek’s position as an innovator in the space. The company proceeded to file numerous related patents as the technology took off.

Other companies followed suit, seeking to patent their own innovations in the USB flash drive market. In the 2000s, Trek became embroiled in multiple patent disputes with competitors like Verbatim and Imation over alleged violations of Trek’s patents (2, 3). Legal wrangling continued for years before ultimately being settled out of court through licensing deals.

The complex patent landscape surrounding early USB flash drives highlighted how lucrative and transformative the new devices were. Although legal issues arose, the technology itself flourished, soon reaching mainstream adoption.

Mainstream Adoption

USB flash drives went mainstream in the early 2000s as their storage capacities increased while prices decreased dramatically. According to the USB Implementers Forum, over 100 million flash drives were sold in 2004 alone, compared to just 18 million in 2003. This rapid growth in sales and adoption was fueled by several key factors:

One major factor was the continuing increase in storage capacity for USB drives. In 2000, the largest available capacity was 32MB. But by 2004, capacities reached 1GB and prices fell below $20 per drive. This made USB drives a viable storage solution compared to floppy disks. According to Wikipedia, a 1GB USB drive could hold over 200 floppy disks worth of data.

Another important development was the rise in USB ports on personal computers in the early 2000s. USB ports became standard on new desktop and laptop PCs during this period. This made it easy and convenient for people to use USB drives without needing adapters or special hardware.

USB flash drives were also extremely portable and reusable compared to CDs or floppy disks. Their small size and durability made them ideal for file transfer and data storage for students, business users, and everyday consumers. As prices dropped and capacities rose, USB drives became an essential piece of technology for millions of people worldwide in the 2000s.

Impact on Technology

The invention of USB flash drives fundamentally changed personal computing and portable data storage. Their small size and plug-and-play functionality made it easy for anyone to store and transfer data. Here are some of the key ways USB flash drives impacted technology:

Portability – Flash drives could hold large amounts of data, yet were tiny enough to fit on a keychain. This allowed people to easily take files with them anywhere.

Storage capacity – Early flash drives held up to 8MB, while modern drives can store terabytes. This provided orders of magnitude greater capacity compared to floppy disks.

Speed – Flash drives transferred data much faster than optical media like CDs. USB 2.0 and later versions brought sequential read/write speeds up to 625MB/s.

Durability – Flash drives have no moving parts, making them more durable and shock-resistant than hard drives.

Compatibility – USB ports made flash drives plug-and-play compatible with most computers. No drivers or installation was required.

Cost – While initially expensive, flash drive prices steadily dropped making them affordable to the mainstream consumer. This significantly reduced the cost per megabyte of storage.

According to SmartMD, the impact of USB flash drives allowed people to easily store and transfer game save files, game mods, and other data.

Other Notable Innovators

While the inventor of the first commercial USB flash drive was Trek Technology, there were several other key figures that made important contributions to the development of USB flash drive technology.

In 1994, Pua Khein Seng and a team at Malaysia’s M-Systems developed the first flash drive prototypes, but they did not bring it to market. Their early research on flash memory storage devices paved the way for commercial USB drives. [1]

Dov Moran, an Israeli engineer, led the team at M-Systems that developed the DiskOnKey in 2000, which was one of the first USB flash drives sold commercially. It had a storage capacity of 8MB. While Trek Technology’s IBM brand drive hit the market first, the DiskOnKey helped drive mainstream consumer adoption of flash drives. [1]

In 2003, Lexar introduced the JumpDrive Secure USB flash drive which added password protection and encryption capabilities. Protecting sensitive data on portable drives became an important innovation. [2]

Since the 2000s, many companies have continued enhancing USB flash drive technology – increasing storage capacity, improving transfer speeds, and adding security features. The drive to innovate persists across the industry.

The Inventor: Trek Technology

While several companies were developing early versions of flash drives in the late 1990s, the inventor credited with creating the first USB flash drive is Trek Technology, a Singaporean company founded in 1995 by Henn Tan.[1]

In 1998, Trek introduced the first USB flash drive called the “Trek ThumbDrive,” which had a storage capacity of 8MB. The ThumbDrive was a revolutionary product that allowed users to easily store and transfer data between devices using the new USB ports that were becoming standard on computers at the time.

Trek founder Henn Tan is considered a pioneer in developing early flash memory storage devices. Though CompactFlash cards existed previously, Trek made key innovations like using flash memory adapted for USB connectors to create an easy-to-use plug and play thumb drive.[2]

By 2000, Trek had secured patents related to USB flash drives, helping establish the company’s status as the original inventor, especially for the first commercial versions that saw widespread adoption.[3] Though other companies also patented aspects of flash drive technology, Trek is known as the first to bring USB storage devices to market successfully.

Trek’s ThumbDrive sparked the flash drive revolution. The company continued developing new versions with increased capacities over the years. However, by the mid-2000s, Trek faced heavy competition from other major electronics brands producing their own flash drives. Nonetheless, Trek’s founding role in inventing the USB drive remains an important legacy.


The invention of the USB flash drive has had a monumental impact on technology and how we store, transfer, and transport data. After over a decade of development, the USB flash drive emerged in the early 2000s as a breakthrough portable storage device. While several pioneers contributed to early USB and flash memory technology, the inventor who is widely credited with creating the first commercial USB flash drive and bringing it to the mass market is Trek Technology.

Trek’s ThumbDrive, released in 2000, marked a major advancement from floppy disks and other storage methods of the time. Weighing just 22 grams, the ThumbDrive offered up to 1GB of lightweight, fast, and reusable storage capacity. This unleashed new possibilities for conveniently moving files between computers and storing data on the go. The ThumbDrive sparked a wave of innovation in USB drives, leading to increased capacities, shrinking sizes, and robust industrial designs.

Today, USB flash drives are ubiquitous around the world. Their portability and plug-and-play functionality have enabled new ways of sharing, storing, and working with digital data. As other portable storage technologies like cloud computing have emerged, USB drives remain an affordable, flexible, and reliable tool for transporting and backing up files. The USB flash drive has had a profound impact on computing and our digital lives.