Fujian Jinhua Integrated Circuit Company, in partnership with UMC, allegedly stole microchip designs from Idaho’s Micron Technology in an attempt to fuel a new $5.7 billion dollar factory.
In documents filed last December in Federal District Court for the Northern District of California, Micron claimed that designs for its memory chips were stolen after rejecting an acquisition and multiple partnership offers from Chinese tech companies.
Micron said Taiwanese company UMC and China’s FJICC colluded in the theft of valuable trade secrets. Micron was first alerted to the suspicious behavior when one engineer used Google to try and find instructions on wiping a laptop. Later, a brazen attempt to lure Micron engineers to UMC gave a powerpoint presentation which included internal Micron code names.
After alerting Taiwan authorities to the matter, former Micron engineer Kenny Wang was put under phone surveillance. UMC reached out to Wang through Line, a smartphone messaging app. Wang then allegedly stole information from his current employer and received a promoted position at UMC as reward. Investigators found evidence in the personal locker of another assistant engineer, who also took Wang’s phone. Because it had been tapped, it was quickly located despite her best efforts.
UMC has denied the allegations, and in fact filed its own criminal complaints against Wang and the others involved — though their claims were rejected by Taiwanese prosecutors. UMC denies the allegations but has offered no further comment on the matter as the investigation proceeds.
Still, bringing these companies to account in a climate where China is trying very hard to claw its way ahead of the United States may prove a challenge. Republican Senators Jim Risch and Michael D. Crapo sent a letter to President Trump regarding the matter, explaining that “if the case against Micron moves forward, and the Chinese government once again rules in favor of itself, it would cause substantial damage to Micron and the U.S. tech industry as a whole,” according to the New York Times.