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Former SK hynix worker on trial for selling stolen chip tech to Huawei

By Lee Jung-joo

Published : May 28, 2024 - 20:24

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SK hynix's headquarters in Icheon, Gyeonggi Province (SK hynix) SK hynix's headquarters in Icheon, Gyeonggi Province (SK hynix)

A Chinese national who worked for South Korean chipmaker SK hynix is on trial accused of smuggling technology to reduce semiconductor defects to the company's Chinese rival Huawei, Gyeonggi Nambu Provincial Police Agency said Tuesday.

According to police officials, the ex-employee in her 30s was arrested under the Act on Prevention of Divulgence and Protection of Industrial Technology in April. She was indicted by prosecutors earlier in the month and is currently standing trial at Suwon District Court.

After joining SK hynix in 2013, the suspect worked in the company’s department that analyzed defects in semiconductor designs.

From 2020 to 2022, she worked in a team that conducted business-to-business transactions at a local subsidiary in China. After returning to Korea in June 2022, the suspect moved to Huawei, a semiconductor company based in China, in the same month.

During police investigations, the suspect reportedly acknowledged that she had been offered a higher salary from Huawei before changing her job.

According to police officials, the suspect is accused of printing more than 3,000 pages of data related to reducing defect rates when manufacturing semiconductors.

For security reasons, SK hynix prohibits the use of storage media such as USBs and manages printouts by keeping detailed records of what was printed, who printed it, and where the printouts were to be used.

However, in this case, while there are records of the documents being printed by the suspect, there were no records of where the documents were used.

According to local media reports, the police suspect that the ex-employee printed the documents and distributed them in different bags. The suspect has reportedly denied all allegations, confessing that she only printed the materials to study semiconductor technology before joining a new company and did not intend to leak any new technologies.

After receiving a report filed by SK hynix, the police began investigating the allegations and evidence surrounding the suspect, and the suspect was arrested by police at the airport when she entered Korea in April.

Huawei told The Korea Herald that it could not verify the allegations surrounding the suspect and the Chinese semiconductor company.

"Huawei is committed to respecting the intellectual property and trade secrets of others while also protecting its own," said Huawei through an official statement. "We explicitly prohibit our employees from improperly acquiring, disclosing, using, or disposing of the trade secrets of others."

According to the National Police Agency, overseas technology leakage cases are on the rise. Since conducting a special crackdown on crimes that endanger economic security from February to October 2023, the number of cases has increased by 75 percent compared to previous years. In total, the police sent 21 cases to prosecutors, with semiconductors and machinery accounting for three such cases.