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Inside a Heist of American Chip Designs, as China Bids for Tech Power

Inside a Heist of American Chip Designs, as China Bids for Tech Power


When investigators showed up at UMC’s offices early last year, the police said, some employees rushed to hide what they had taken from Micron. Mr. Wang and another former Micron employee gave laptops, USB flash drives and documents to an assistant engineer, who locked them in her personal locker. She then left the office with Mr. Wang’s phone — the one that the police had tapped, which was quickly tracked down.

UMC filed its own criminal complaint against Mr. Wang last year, which Taiwanese prosecutors rejected. Mr. Wang and other engineers who were charged said they had taken the trade secrets for personal research. Mr. Wang did not respond to emails and phone calls for comment.

In January, Micron was hit with a patent infringement suit by Jinhua and UMC over several types of memory. As part of the suit, the companies requested the court ban Micron from making and selling the products and pay them damages. The case is being heard by a court in Fujian Province. The Fujian provincial government is an investor in Jinhua.

In a letter sent to President Trump, Senators James Risch and Mike Crapo, Republicans of Idaho, expressed concern about the entire case and specifically the rapid pace with which the patent lawsuit has proceeded. The case could block Micron from selling some products in China.

“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,” said the letter, which was viewed by The New York Times.

In May, China’s market regulator opened a price-fixing investigation into Micron, along with South Korean memory makers SK Hynix and Samsung Electronics. Memory prices have jumped over the past year, because of spiking demand and limited production by the three companies, which dominate the market. Another China regulator, which has said it is also monitoring the price jump, also gave a multimillion-dollar grant to Jinhua.

Jinhua and other Chinese chip makers face hurdles in catching up. Production of semiconductors involves a highly complex and automated production process that controls everything down to the atomic level.



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