Chipmaker ASML Admits IP Theft, But Rejects China Claim

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Dutch chipmaker says workers in US stole intellectual property, but rejects Chinese espionage implications

Dutch chipmaker ASML has admitted it suffered intellectual property theft in 2015, but it has rejected a recent media report that it had been struck by Chinese espionage.

ASML is one of the world’s largest makers of microchip manufacturing equipment, and it was responding to an article this week by the Dutch financial newspaper Financieele Dagblad (FD).

It comes ASML admitted in March 2015 that it had suffered a data breach, but it said at the time that no “valuable” files had been accessed. Some media reports at the time also suggested that Chinese state hackers were responsible for the intrusion.


China link?

But ASML has now published an official statement disputing a fresh newspaper report this week in the Dutch media.

“ASML disagrees with any implication that it has been victim of ‘Chinese espionage’, as stated in an article in Dutch financial newspaper Financieele Dagblad,” said the firm.

“The article discusses the results of a public court case in the United States that ASML had initiated and won last year, in which a company called XTAL was found by a jury to have misappropriated ASML’s confidential and proprietary information and trade secrets in 2015,” the firm wrote.

ASML admitted it had been robbed “by a handful of our own employees based in Silicon Valley, who had broken the law to enrich themselves.”

“All of this occurred several years ago,” said ASML President and CEO Peter Wennink. “We found this out by ourselves and immediately sought legal action in public court in 2016. This was reported on in several publications after our victory in November 2018.”

It seems that the three ASML staffers, “with various nationalities,” stole software for mask optimization, a specific small part of ASML’s broad product and services portfolio.

“We resent any suggestion that this event should have any implication for ASML conducting business in China,” said Wennink. “Some of the individuals happened to be Chinese nationals, but individuals from other nations were also involved.”

Chinese nationals?

“We believe we can serve all our customers, including our Chinese customers, and help them build their businesses,” he added. “We are encouraged by the recent constructive talks and agreements between the European Union and China that China will step up its efforts to respect and protect corporate intellectual property of non-Chinese companies.”

The FD article was according to Reuters, based in part on ASML sources and in part on documents from the Santa Clara, California Superior Court.

That court document reportedly showed six former ASML employees, all with Chinese names, had breached their employment contract by sharing information on ASML software processes with a company called XTAL Inc.

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Author: Tom Jowitt
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