A Chinese national and former SK Hynix employee has been indicted on charges of stealing information about the company’s semiconductor technology.

The unidentified 30-year-old woman was reportedly arrested in South Korea last month on suspicion of violating the Act on Prevention of Divulgence and Protection of Industrial Technology. She denies the allegations.

South Korea
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Prosecutors claim she joined the chip manufacturer in 2013 and between 2020 and 2022 worked as a team leader at a Chinese subsidiary of the company.

While at SK Hynix, her role mainly involved analyzing design flaws that cause semiconductor failures and it is information relating to this that she has been accused of stealing. Before leaving SK Hynix, it is alleged the woman printed more than 3,000 sheets of A4 paper containing information about front-end semiconductor manufacturing technology.

She was arrested at an airport in South Korea after SK Hynix reported the suspicious activity to the police.

Earlier this year, South Korea introduced tougher sentencing laws for anyone convicted of leaking or stealing technology information.

Under the revised Prevention of Divulgence and Protection of Industrial Technology Act, prison terms for those found guilty of leaking the country's intellectual property abroad or smuggling designated core technologies out of South Korea have significantly increased, as have the possible fines that can be doled out.

As defined by the act, "national core technology" refers to technologies that "may have a significant adverse effect on national security and the development of the national economy if divulged abroad, due to their high technological and economic value in domestic and foreign markets or the high growth potential of related industries."

In February 2024, police arrested five Samsung Electronics employees who shared information about the company's latest semiconductor surface cleaning equipment technology with PNC Process System of China.

Update: Based on media reports from South Korea, a previous version of this article stated that upon the woman’s return to South Korea in June 2022, she accepted a job with Huawei and allegedly transferred the stolen information to the company.

While Huawei could not refute the claim that it had at some point employed the accused, the company did dispute the fact that it had been in receipt of the alleged stolen information.

In a statement, a Huawei spokesperson said: “Huawei is committed to respecting the intellectual property and trade secrets of others while also protecting its own. We explicitly prohibit our employees from improperly acquiring, disclosing, using, or disposing of the trade secrets of others.”