Micron, UMC Settle Patent Infringement Complaints

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United Microelectronics Corp. (UMC) and Micron Technology Inc. announced a global settlement agreement on Nov. 25 ending a host of years-long patent infringement disputes between the two chipmakers.

UMC agreed to make a one-time payment to Micron, and both companies will effectively withdraw complaints against each other. The amount of the settlement remains undisclosed.

The settlement aims to resolve previous trade quarrels between the two companies, including UMC’s patent infringement lawsuit against Micron filed in January 2018. The lawsuit effectively prevented Micron from manufacturing, processing, importing and selling specific chip types in China, including DRAM and NAND flash memory chips.

The countersuit responded to Micron’s intellectual property theft allegations against UMC several months earlier accusing the Taiwan-based chipmaker and Fujian Jinhua Integrated Circuit Co. (JHICC) of stealing, conveying and possessing stolen trade secrets. A ruling by the Commerce Department’s Bureau of Industry and Security in October 2018 placed JHICC on its Entity List, preventing U.S. companies from initiating business operations with JHICC.

Facts presented during the countersuit revealed UMC hired three employees from Micron’s Taiwan subsidiary, one of which was assigned to lead consultations between UMC and JHICC to develop DRAM memory chips for JHICC – a developmental area UMC hadn’t capitalized on previously.

It was later found that two employees hired by UMC conveyed confidential information regarding DRAM chip manufacturing designs from Micron’s Taiwan subsidiary to UMC.

UMC pleaded guilty in October 2020 to the allegations, and the company agreed to a $60 million fine in exchange for its cooperation with the investigation and prosecution of JHICC.

“UMC and Micron look forward to engaging in mutual business cooperation opportunities,” UMC and Micron said in a joint statement released Nov. 25.

Micron declined our request for further comment.

Future collaboration between Micron and UMC remains problematic, however, given the U.S.-China battle for semiconductor supremacy. Sanctions placed on Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corp. earlier this year ratcheted tensions between Washington and Beijing.

Meanwhile, the U.S. government’s recent request for chip supply data from both U.S. and foreign suppliers in an attempt to resolve the global chip shortage crisis has raised additional concerns. For example, Nissan’s boss told the BBC on Monday (Nov. 29) he saw no immediate end to the IC shortage.

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