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2014年3月21日 (金)

東芝技術流出 日本のもの作りが脅かされる

The Yomiuri Shimbun March 16, 2014
Leak of Toshiba secrets highlights threat to Japan’s manufacturers
東芝技術流出 日本のもの作りが脅かされる(3月16日付・読売社説)

Secrets of Toshiba Corp.’s cutting-edge semiconductor technology have been divulged to a rival South Korean company.

How should Japanese manufacturers protect their core technological know-how, prized as the foundation of this nation’s production activities? Efforts must be redoubled to beef up arrangements to protect Japan’s technology from being leaked abroad.

A former employee of the Tokyo-based Japan arm of a U.S. chipmaker that had a business alliance with Toshiba is suspected of taking research data out of the firm without permission, using a recording medium in 2008. He is accused of subsequently providing the data to SK Hynix Inc., a South Korean chip giant.

The Metropolitan Police Department arrested the man Thursday on suspicion of violating the Unfair Competition Prevention Law that covers the passing on of trade secrets.

The information stolen was Toshiba research data on NAND-type flash memory, a key semiconductor that is used in digital cameras, smartphones and other electronic equipment.

After sneaking the data out of a Toshiba plant while assigned there by the chipmaker, the former employee began working at SK Hynix. Was the new job given in exchange for his promise to provide the South Korean company with the chip research data? The MPD must thoroughly uncover all aspects of the case, including the background against which the incident took place and the possible involvement of SK Hynix.

The global market for NAND-type flash memory has been growing rapidly. South Korea’s Samsung Electronics Co. has the highest market share in NAND products, followed by Toshiba, while SK Hynix places fourth.

Competition has been increasingly fierce, with Chinese companies going all out to close the gap with industry leaders.

If it is true that the former employee did illicitly take the cutting-edge technological secrets out of the firm to give them to a rival, this must be considered an incident that could shake the very basis of Japanese companies’ international competitiveness.

Tighten compliance

Toshiba says the damage involved is at least ¥100 billion and has filed a compensatory lawsuit with the Tokyo District Court against the former employee and SK Hynix.

Instituting such a suit runs the risk of having the corporate secrets in question exposed.

In light of the massive damage and the impact the incident will have on the country’s industrial sector, however, Toshiba seems to have decided to seek the rigorous, impartial judgment of a court in the matter.

In a similar case, Japan’s largest steel manufacturer, Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal Corp., has been fighting a court battle against its South Korean rival POSCO, the largest steelmaker in South Korea. The Japanese company is seeking a massive amount of compensation on the grounds that one of its retired workers illegally passed on information about its state-of-the-art technology concerning high-performance steel plates.

Among companies in such countries as China and South Korea, the head-hunting of technology experts has been intense, and there have been conspicuous moves to acquire information from both current and retired employees of Japanese companies.

About 10 percent of the approximately 3,000 Japanese companies that responded to a survey by the Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry replied that they had experienced leaks of their trade secrets. The poll also showed that only about half of the responding companies prohibited employees from leaking corporate secrets after retirement, exposing weaknesses in the companies’ systems to protect confidentiality.

Every company is urged to thoroughly review its arrangements for handling trade secrets, while at the same time strengthening steps to ensure that employees comply with rules and regulations.

It is also problematic that penalties under the Unfair Competition Prevention Law are markedly lenient when compared to those in the United States and European countries.

Ways must be studied to effectively deter leakage of corporate secrets by making penalties heavier, comparable to those in other countries.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, March 16, 2014)
(2014年3月16日01時42分  読売新聞)


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