The US Department of Justice (DoJ) formally charged a state-owned Chinese company, a Taiwanese company and three individuals with intellectual property theft, accusing them of stealing trade secrets from US semiconductor company Micron Technology.
A criminal indictment alleges China’s Fujian Jinhua Integrated Circuit Company (FJICC) and Taiwan-based United Microelectronics conspired with three Taiwanese citizens who worked for Micron Technology to steal confidential information related to the design and manufacture of DRAM products. The material was then used by FJICC to open a DRAM facility in China, the DoJ claimed.
DRAM products are used in computers, smartphones and automotive infotainment systems.
Micron Technology filed a lawsuit in December 2017 lodging similar complaints of trade secret theft against the two companies: FJICC reportedly counter-sued.
US Attorney Alex Tse said in a statement the theft of intellectual property “stifles technological innovation by disincentivising investment in long-term research and development,” adding such actions conducted “on a continuing basis by nation-state actors” are a “damaging affront to the rule of law”.
If convicted, the individuals face up to 15 years in prison and $5 million in fines, while the companies could face forfeiture and fines of more than $20 billion.
Though the criminal case is yet to be heard in court, US Attorney General Jeff Sessions noted the Department of Commerce already added FJICC to a blacklist, blocking it from buying goods and services in the US and preventing it “from profiting from the technology it stole”.
The DoJ also filed a civil lawsuit to keep the accused companies from exporting any products created using the stolen technology.
Additionally, Sessions announced the creation of a new task force which will identify and prosecute Chinese trade theft cases going forward. As part of its duties, the group will also help the DoJ’s Foreign Investment Review Staff evaluate investments in US infrastructure and telecommunications by non-domestic companies, he said.
The moves follow growing trade tensions between the US and China, and in response to what Sessions said was an increase in “Chinese economic espionage against the United States”.
“Enough is enough. We’re not going to take it anymore”, he said.Subscribe to our daily newsletter Back