Four former executives at a Bay Area semiconductor equipment manufacturing company were charged for their roles in an alleged scheme to steal trade secrets from their employer to start a rival company based in the USA and China, officials said.
The move fuels fears that China is resorting to illegal tactics it break its dependence on chip imports, threatening US chipmakers and putting America's national security at risk, according to Bloomberg.
The report says the men were the employees of semiconductor company Applied Materials Inc. of Santa Clara.
Robert Ewald, Wei-Yung Hsu, Donald Olgado and Liang Chen are all accused of the downloading of data from the internal engineering Applied Materials database, including over 16,000 drawings, and hatching a plot to lure investors into funding a China and USA -based startup that could compete with Applied, said prosecutors on Wednesday via a prepared statement.
The stolen intellectual property outlined the processes for manufacturing a high volume of chips that are used to light and electrify flat-screen TVs and smartphones.
Arraignments for all four defendants is scheduled for December 15 in San Francisco. "We can not comment further on pending legal actions". Each count carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
Applied Materials plays an important role in today's chip industry as it is the biggest supplier of machinery needed for the manufacturing of vital electronic components. In fact, in its last few days in power, the Obama administration issued a warning about China's push to develop domestic semiconductor technology. Just a small portion of that demand gets met by local companies.
The technology they allegedly conspired to steal took years of research and millions of dollars in investment to build, according to the indictment.
Now regulators have blocked the china because of the domestic companies' demands and China-related entities' attempts to acquire USA chip companies.
No companies from China are listed as the top semiconductors makers in the world.
In some cases, the DOJ alleges, the new company presented its potential investors with presentations that included slides copied directly from Applied's own internal decks.
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