SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — Three Taiwan-based engineers and a state-owned technology enterprise of the People’s Republic of China have been indicted by a U.S. grand jury for allegedly stealing trade secrets from an American semiconductor company, federal authorities announced Thursday.
The indictment alleges that patented dynamic random-access memory technology was stolen from Micron Technology’s Silicon Valley operations.
“Micron is worth an estimated $100 billion and has a 20 to 25 percent share of the dynamic random access memory industry—a technology not possessed by the Chinese until very recently,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions. “As this and other recent cases have shown, Chinese economic espionage against the United States has been increasing—and it has been increasing rapidly.”
Also indicted was United Microelectronics Corporation, a Taiwan semiconductor foundry, that allegedly passed along Micron’s DRAM technology to Fujian Jinhua Integrated Circuit Co. located in China.
The Justice Department said 55-year-old Chen Zhengkun, a.k.a. Stephen Chen; 42-year-old He Jianting, a.k.a. J.T. Ho; and 44-year-old Wang Yungming, a.k.a. Kenny Wang were each facing one count of conspiracy to commit economic espionage, one count of conspiracy to commit theft of trade secrets and one count of economic espionage.
“Prior to the events described in the indictment, the PRC (People’s Republic of China) did not possess DRAM technology, and the Central Government and State Council of the PRC publicly identified the development of DRAM and other microelectronics technology as a national economic priority,” federal prosecutors said in a press release. “The indictment describes the manner and means by which the defendants conspired to steal Micron’s intellectual property related to DRAM and convey it to a company controlled by the PRC government.”
Chen was a general manager and chairman of an electronics corporation that Micron acquired in 2013. He then became the president of a Micron subsidiary in Taiwan, Micron Memory Taiwan, responsible for manufacturing at least one of Micron’s DRAM chips.
He left Micron Memory Taiwan for a job with United Microelectronics. He also recruited Ho and Wang to join him at UMC.
The indictment alleges that Wang downloaded over 900 Micron confidential and proprietary files before he leaving and stored them on USB external hard drives or in personal cloud storage from where he could access the technology while working at United Microelectronics.
“I am here to say that enough is enough,” Sessions said. “With integrity and professionalism, the Department of Justice will aggressively prosecute such illegal activity.”
If convicted, the individual defendants face a maximum sentence of 15 years imprisonment and a $5 million fine for economic espionage charges, and 10 years imprisonment for theft of trade secrets charges.
If convicted, each company faces forfeiture and a maximum fine of more than $20 billion.