Former TSMC Engineer Charged With Stealing 28nm Silicon Tech Trade Secrets From NVIDIA And AMD

In the high stakes game of semiconductors, technologies related to processor nodes are closely guarded secrets as companies try to trump one another with die shrinks and other advances in silicon research and development. As you might imagine, espionage can be a problem. Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC) believes it was an issue with a former employee who it accuses of stealing 28nm trade secrets.

TSMC believes an ex-employee identified only as Hsu stole information about the company's 28nm process technology when he was being head hunted for employment at Shanghai Hueli Microelectronics (HLMC), a competing semiconductor manufacturer in China. Hsu had accepted a job at HLMC but was arrested before he had a chance to start working in his new role.

Image Source: TSMC

At one point in time, TSMC was the sole manufacturer and provider of 28nm semiconductors for both AMD and NVIDIA, which used the silicon in their respective graphics products (and APUs, for AMD). While AMD and NVIDIA have moved onto smaller process nodes, TSMC continues to be a working partner with both companies and obviously has intimate knowledge past GPUs.

Reports coming out of Taiwan allege that Hsu confessed to stealing materials from TSMC when he was confronted by company officials. The reports also say that the former employee made copies of several different documents after resigning from TSMC, and that some of the copied documents were found in his home. The documents detailed semiconductor technologies developed by TSMC, including those related to high performance and low power consumption parts.

Hsu is not the only one that TSMC is angry with. The company warned HLMC that it will not hesitate to take legal action if its products appear to use any technologies that were allegedly stolen by Hsu, or otherwise originate from TSMC.

HLMC has been making big investments towards shifting to 28nm semiconductor manufacturing. The company may have been reckless in its attempts to get there, as prosecutors claim Hsu traveled to HLMC in December and leveraged stolen materials from TSMC to secure a job offer. And earlier this year, it's said that HLMC tried to poach nearly 50 United Microelectronic (UMC) research and development engineers in its attempt to move its 28nm process to mass production.