Former TSMC engineer gave secret process technology to Samsung, court rules

Posted:
in General Discussion edited August 2015
An engineer who left chipmaker TSMC for a new job at rival Samsung's foundry division illegally passed trade secrets to the South Korean firm, Taiwan's Supreme Court said in a Wednesday ruling.

TSMC Fab
TSMC's 12-inch wafer fab


As a result of the ruling, Liang Mong-song --?who previously oversaw an advanced research and development division at TSMC --?will be barred form working at Samsung until the end of the year, according to the EETimes. Liang currently serves as Chief Technology Officer of Samsung's System LSI group.

Liang worked at TSMC for nearly 20 years, and was one of the key players in that company's development of its FinFET fabrication process. He left the company in 2009 after being passed over for a promotion that would have given him oversight of TSMC's entire research and development effort.

At the time of Liang's departure, TSMC operated the most advanced contract fab in the world. Samsung --?while still a major foundry player --?was struggling with smaller and more advanced process nodes.

Liang initially joined Samsung as a professor at a company-sponsored university in Seoul. During the trial, TSMC argued that this was a cover-up designed to shield Liang from his non-competition agreement and to keep his multi-million dollar TSMC stock options grant intact.

Following the expiration of his noncompete, Liang formally started at Samsung's System LSI division and led the development of the forthcoming 14-nanometer FinFET process.

Many people credit that process --?alongside TSMC's issues with its own 16-nanometer variant --?with allowing Samsung to win and retain a majority of Apple's A-series processor business, though there are indications that TSMC may have won back a share of the orders for the next-generation A9.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 48
    cnocbuicnocbui Posts: 3,613member
    Perhaps TSMC shouldn't have passed him over for promotion. What goes around...
  • Reply 2 of 48
    jungmarkjungmark Posts: 6,626member
    cnocbui wrote: »
    Perhaps TSMC shouldn't have passed him over for promotion. What goes around...

    Doesn't excuse theft of trade secrets.
  • Reply 3 of 48
    jungmarkjungmark Posts: 6,626member
    I guess Liang wanted to fit in with Sammy's theft culture.
  • Reply 4 of 48

    As many of these companies and economies will soon realize, what goes around comes around. Japan did it to the US. Taiwan to Japan. Korea to Taiwan. Now China to Korea. Next up, Vietnam to China....

     

    And so it goes.

  • Reply 5 of 48



    Yes, this was obviously a guy of high moral character deserving such a position of oversight and trust. /s

  • Reply 6 of 48
    cnocbuicnocbui Posts: 3,613member
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by jungmark View Post





    Doesn't excuse theft of trade secrets.



    A123

  • Reply 7 of 48
    cnocbui wrote: »
    Perhaps TSMC shouldn't have passed him over for promotion. What goes around...

    Wow. :no:
  • Reply 8 of 48

    I'm always surprised companies are hiring such people. In their shoes I'd constantly expect he'd do the same with "my" secret. But then again, it's Samsung and possibly it is right in their genes ;-)

     

    What is surprising me more is that he goes officially on vacation for one year. That's it? I mean, so he was convicted to have passed on secrets to his new employer, but.. that's realy it? I mean, no fine? For neither party?

  • Reply 9 of 48
    bocboc Posts: 72member
    Korean businessmen play by different rules. Always have.
  • Reply 10 of 48
    kent909kent909 Posts: 699member

    Too funny. The guy is barred from working until the end of the year. Nice vacation. Samsung was complicit in this and of course nothing about a company stealing trade secrets being unethical or illegal in anyway. Let's get serious here folks, no one involved really cares about the ethics of this or intends to end any future motivation for this to happen again.  This was just TSMC way of getting a little retribution for the outcome of the  decision to not promote this guy.

  • Reply 11 of 48
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by WonkoTheSane View Post

     

    I'm always surprised companies are hiring such people. In their shoes I'd constantly expect he'd do the same with "my" secret. But then again, it's Samsung and possibly it is right in their genes ;-)

     

    What is surprising me more is that he goes officially on vacation for one year. That's it? I mean, so he was convicted to have passed on secrets to his new employer, but.. that's realy it? I mean, no fine? For neither party?


     

    @WonkoTheSane : to  best of my knowledge, the case is about Liang Mong-Song's breach of non-compete agreement (and bonus he received as part of the agreement).  Samsung is not a party to this lawsuit and has been not accused of anything.

  • Reply 12 of 48
    Typical Samsung underhanded move. Very little morality in Samsung and the Korean students I have encountered are constantly cheating too. There may be a few moral Koreans but I have yet to encounter them.
  • Reply 13 of 48
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by ElectroTech View Post



    Typical Samsung underhanded move. Very little morality in Samsung and the Korean students I have encountered are constantly cheating too. There may be a few moral Koreans but I have yet to encounter them.

     

    @ElectroTech : these non-compete agreements are silly (though I blame Liang for accepting the non-compete and bonus, then moving on to work for a competitor).  I guess AIer's are yet to learn anything from Apple's anti-poaching lawsuits.

  • Reply 14 of 48
    mstonemstone Posts: 11,510member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by anantksundaram View Post

     

    Japan did it to the US. 




    Yep. That is when the US gave away the farm just to be magnanimous victors after WWII.

  • Reply 15 of 48
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by WonkoTheSane View Post

     

    I'm always surprised companies are hiring such people. In their shoes I'd constantly expect he'd do the same with "my" secret. But then again, it's Samsung and possibly it is right in their genes ;-)

     

    What is surprising me more is that he goes officially on vacation for one year. That's it? I mean, so he was convicted to have passed on secrets to his new employer, but.. that's realy it? I mean, no fine? For neither party?


     

    Say you accept a job at Apple. Should you then prohibited from working at any tech company for the rest of your life because you know Apple proprietary information? It is said that the innovation in Silicon Valley happens due to cross pollination and California's worker protection laws in that aspect.

     

    There's a fine line between knowledge and experience and company proprietary IP.

  • Reply 16 of 48
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by tooltalk View Post

     

     

    @WonkoTheSane : to  best of my knowledge, the case is about Liang Mong-Song's breach of non-compete agreement (and bonus he received as part of the agreement).  Samsung is not a party to this lawsuit and has been not accused of anything.




    And while it is pure speculation I would not be surprised if among the reasons for hiring him was the disclosure of information under NDA from TSMC. We have a pretty clear idea about how such things go, no?

     

    And again, I am most surprised at the severity of the verdict, also the lack of it, as well as wondering if any employer (independent of Samsung) would not already expect his new employee sooner or later to "defect" in the same manner.

  • Reply 17 of 48
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by konqerror View Post

     

     

    Say you accept a job at Apple. Should you then prohibited from working at any tech company for the rest of your life because you know Apple proprietary information? It is said that the innovation in Silicon Valley happens due to cross pollination and California's worker protection laws in that aspect.

     

    There's a fine line between knowledge and experience and company proprietary IP.




    Obviously your question is a rhetorical one. It is not about prohibiting anyone to change company. It is clearly about breach of contract.

    And in this case the line was crossed. In my job I am constantly in contacts with clients who are direct competitors and we are always working under NDA. IF there would be just the slightest suspicion of us passing on knowledge onto other clients we'd be out of business faster than you can say "Liang Mong-Song". So while the line may sometimes be fine, we have so far never ran into an issue regarding potential breach of NDA. My conclusion is, that this may not always be easy, but it is clearly possible to maintain the conditions under which you have been contracted.

  • Reply 18 of 48

    Samsung could've reported it but decided to use the information for its own gains. Just another example of Samsung's poor business ethics.

  • Reply 19 of 48
    radarthekatradarthekat Posts: 2,927moderator

    I signed several non-disclosures in my career, the last of which prohibited me, as a co-founder and designer of TimeTrade Systems' SaaS scheduling software, from working for 18 months after departing the company from working for any company in that space.  Not so restrictive really, you just wait your time and then are free to do as you please, or apply your basic skills to a new area of business.

  • Reply 20 of 48
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by WonkoTheSane View Post

     

     So while the line may sometimes be fine, we have so far never ran into an issue regarding potential breach of NDA. 


     

    Because you never had any high profile hires. If a competitor is pissed off, they're going to sue, justified or not, if only to make your life more difficult.

     

    Quote:
    Originally Posted by RadarTheKat View Post

     

    I signed several non-disclosures in my career, the last of which prohibited me, as a co-founder and designer of TimeTrade Systems' SaaS scheduling software, from working for 18 months after departing the company from working for any company in that space.  Not so restrictive really, you just wait your time and then are free to do as you please, or apply your basic skills to a new area of business.


     

    Noncompete agreements are generally unenforceable in California (along with MT, ND, OK). You could go work at a competitor the very next day. This is a major reason why you can only get the best talent in Silicon Valley.

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