MADISON, Wisc. — South Korea's SK Hynix Inc. disclosed Monday in a regulatory filing that Toshiba Corp. is seeking $1.1 billion in damages over the suspected theft of data related to NAND flash memory chip technology, according to a Reuters' report.
In March 2014, Toshiba filed a civil suit against SK Hynix in Tokyo District Court for allegedly stealing trade secrets related to its NAND flash memory technology. Toshiba did not announce the amount of damages sought from the Korean company.
Toshiba said in a statement in March, "SK Hynix is a business partner of Toshiba. However, the companies are also competitors in NAND flash memory." Toshiba added, "Given the scope and importance of the misappropriated technical data involved, Toshiba has no reasonable option other than to seek legal redress."
The Japanese company, according to the regulatory filing, is also seeking to have SK Hynix destroy all information about the technology in question and cease production and sales of NAND memory products using that technology, according to the regulatory filing, Reuters reported.
Toshiba's complaint follows a similar trade secrets suit SanDisk Corporation filed against SK Hynix in March 2014. SanDisk then claimed that SK Hynix has used the trade secrets in semiconductor devices and flash memory products sold in California.
In March, SanDisk also submitted a criminal complaint with the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department against a former employee.
SanDisk has charged that ex-employee Yoshitaka Sugita downloaded "a huge number of files" containing confidential information before joining SK Hynix in 2008. Sugita had been working on one of SanDisk's flash memory projects with Toshiba. The companies have been working together to develop NAND flash memory technology since the early 2000s, according to SanDisk's suit.
SanDisk claims that Sugita stole circuit designs, research analysis and other important documents. In January, an informant allegedly told the company that documents bearing the words "SanDisk/Toshiba confidential" had been distributed to SK Hynix employees.
On the same day that SanDisk filed suit in California, authorities in Tokyo arrested Sugita on criminal charges. Toshiba said the company filed its trade-secrets suit against SK Hynix after learning of Sugita's arrest.
High-stake memory market
Memory chipmakers held the key to a resurgence in worldwide semiconductor revenue in 2013, which rose 5% year-over-year in 2013, according to IHS Technology.
Global Semiconductor Market Share (Source: IHS)
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In the list of top 25 global semiconductor suppliers (by revenue) released by IHS in late April, the market research firm explained that "DRAM and NAND in wireless propelled the global semiconductor growth in 2013," noting in particular that makers of memory ICs like Micron and SK Hynix enjoyed booming years in 2013.
For Toshiba, whose rank dropped from fifth place to sixth (in contrast to SK Hynix which moved up from seventh to fifth) in 2013, protecting its NAND memory technology and market share is obviously critical.
NAND Flash Market Share (Source: IHS)
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— Junko Yoshida, Chief International Correspondent, EE Times