Samsung lifted trade secrets from rival Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company Limited (TSMC), the world’s #1 independent semiconductor foundry, Taiwan’s top court has ruled.
According to a report published Wednesday by Taiwanese trade publication DigiTimes, the court has determined that Liang Mong-song, a former senior director of research and development at TSMC, revealed TSMC’s trade secrets and patents related to its advanced FinFET process technology to Samsung Electronics.
The report makes no mention of Apple, but the connection couldn’t be clearer: Samsung might have been able to leverage the stolen secrets to win orders for Apple’s next-generation ‘A9’ processor. Prior reports have posited that both Samsung and TSMC got to build Apple’s A9 chips on the advanced 14-nanometer FinFET process technology which uses entirely new three-dimensional transistors.
Stealing know-how from a rival
Citing a report published by Taiwan’s CommonWealth magazine, DigiTimes wrote that Liang played a key role in allowing Samsung to beat TSMC in the 14/16nm race.
“The Supreme Court on August 24 maintained the determination made by the second-instance court, prohibiting Liang from working for Samsung in any form until December 31, 2015,” reads the report.
Coincidentally or not, TSMC chairman Morris Chang told investors back in January that his company would lose out to Samsung in the FinFET segment in 2015. He also said back then that TSMC has committed a “blank check” to developing a finer 10-nanometer process technology “in the shortest time possible.”
Wrapping it up
An analysis conducted by third-party experts regarding key manufacturing processes has determined that starting with 45nm to 28nm processes, the difference between Samsung’s and TSMC’s technologies narrowed.
“The 16nm and 14nm FinFET products that both companies will mass produce this year were even more alike,” the report indicated. “It could be hard to tell (if the product) came from Samsung or TSMC if only structural analysis is used.”
Conflicting reports make it harder to determine the exact percentage of total A9 chip production between Samsung and TSMC. What’s clear is that both companies will fab the A9 chips for Apple’s next-generation iPhones and iPads on the 14-nanometer FinFET process.