Leaks of key technologies
Int’l cooperation needed to uproot industrial spying
Alarm bells are ringing again in our corporate security system after the prosecution announced that key technologies to manufacture advanced flat-panel displays were leaked overseas through a local unit of an Israeli company.
We regard this latest leak as a grave matter and urge the government to make the utmost effort to prevent the recurrence of similar industrial spying cases.
The Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office has detained three Korean employees at the domestic branch of Orbotech, an Israel-based display testing equipment manufacturer, on charges of leaking key technologies of Samsung Mobile Display and LG Display. Three other employees were also indicted without physical detention.
They are suspected of leaking technologies used to produce active-matrix organic light-emitting diode (AMOLED) and white organic light-emitting diode (White OLED) displays whose global market is estimated to reach 90 trillion won ($78 billion). Samsung spent nearly 1.4 trillion won developing its AMOLED technologies and LG also funneled more than 1 trillion won into research and development.
AMOLED displays have a faster response time than their passive-matrix OLED counterparts and are more power-efficient. For these reasons, they are better suited for sophisticated portable electronic devices.
It’s regrettable to hear that the stolen information was likely relayed to the Israeli headquarters and Chinese and Taiwanese display manufacturers, including China’s leading panel maker BOE. We are worried that the leakage may serve as an occasion for our technological superiority in displays to be eroded and prompt a drastic change in the landscape of the global display market. What’s comforting is that the leaked technologies were confined to circuit diagrams with the crucial process knowhow remaining intact.
What’s shocking is their boldness in stealing technologies. According to the prosecution, the indicted employees took a picture of circuit diagrams of the yet-to-be-released 55-inch AMOLED TV panels when they entered factories of Samsung and LG to check defects of testing equipment from November last year to January. They allegedly stored the images on portable memory cards and slipped them into their shoes, belts and wallets to avoid watchful eyes.
According to the National Intelligence Service, 189 industrial espionage cases were detected between 2006 and 2010 and the number of such incidents is continually increasing. That’s because our industrial technologies have advanced rapidly to reach the point where they are on par with those of industrialized countries. Furthermore, competition to secure key technologies has been getting fiercer around the world.
Damage from leaking high technologies can be lethal. Given that considerable amounts of time and money are needed to develop a key technology, a leak can deal a devastating blow to a country’s international competitiveness.
What is needed now is for the government to strengthen punishments for those found to have been involved in industrial espionage cases. At the same time, international cooperation should be sought to tackle this problem collectively. Companies, of course, should tighten their security systems in advance.