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NDC head questioned about chip start-up's alleged technology transfer to China

10/02/2023 05:47 PM
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Wafers are encased in displays in this CNA file photo.
Wafers are encased in displays in this CNA file photo.

Taipei, Oct. 2 (CNA) Minister of National Development Kung Ming-hsin (龔明鑫) was questioned in the Legislative Yuan on Monday about a National Development Fund-supported silicon photonics chip start-up reportedly being in touch with Chinese officials to transfer its core technology.

Kung was questioned by several ruling Democratic Progressive Party lawmakers in the Economics Committee session about a local report last week, which alleged to have received tips from the board members and employees of Taiwan Nano & Micro-Photonics Co., Ltd. that the chairman was in contact with Chinese officials.

It was said that the company, a start-up company established in 2019 and receiving an angel investment of NT$17.63 million from the National Development Fund, was generously offered about NT$23 billion to set up a foundry in China to mass produce the company's state-of-the-art innovation.

The company's setup was based on National Taiwan University (NTU) electrical engineering and computer science professor Lin Ching-fuh (林清富) and his team's work and patent on photodetector for measuring infrared radiation, according to the report. Lin currently serves as the company's CTO.

According to the NTU College of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science's announcement in 2021, the photodetector technology-based silicon photonics chip is able to detect "far and mid infrared, near-infrared, and visible light."

It added that the company was the world's first sensing integrated optical circuit (IOC) design company to have its chips mass produced using silicon wafer CMOS process.

The company held a press conference last October touting it was ready to mass produce the company's "multifunctional, far- and mid-infrared silicon photonics chip."

"Although far- and mid-infrared (MIR) technology has existed for many years, only compound semiconductor materials were able to exhibit the characteristics of emitting and detecting long-wavelength infrared light in the past and the costs were high," the company stated then, saying that the silicon photonics technology could reduce power consumption and costs while maintaining reliability.

Local media outlet Mirror Media reported that Lin said in the press conference the technology could be expected to be used in military industry, aerospace, EV and medicine, and therefore had the potential to become Taiwan's next major technological stronghold.

The tips received by Mirror Media accused company chairman Chang Kun-yu (張坤昱) of trying to transfer the technology to China, who promised to invest billions. The report cited as evidence several screenshots of Chang's message to the board members and copies of Chinese official reports on the plan to make investment in the company.

The National Development Council, a day after the report had been published last Tuesday, issued a press statement stressing that in the same report the company had already denied that the patent had been transferred or that it had any plans to set up factories in China or any other countries.

The council said it has currently 4.93 percent of the company's shares and has no one sitting on its board.

"To our understanding, [the technology] of the company is still at the R&D stage," the council's press release said.

Kung repeated the stance on Monday when asked by the lawmakers who called it a "national security issue," adding that the company also denied the report when the council contacted them about the report.

The minister said the council holds no investigation power but will submit a report on the matter to the legislative committee within a month.

According to the Mirror Media report, the whistleblowers had already reported the alleged offense to the Investigation Bureau of the Ministry of Justice.

(By Alison Hsiao)


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