November 12, 2007 – Korean memory chipmaker Hynix Semiconductor and Taiwan partner ProMOS aim to ramp up production of 66nm DRAMs in 1Q08 to annual capacity of 20,000-30,000 wafers — a decision that has raised eyebrows in Korea, suggesting Hynix may not have been authorized to export the technology under current restrictions, according to local reports.
ProMOS has been making 80nm chips for Hynix since a partnership forged in 2003. Hynix also indicated it has been producing the chips at its JV with STMicroelectronics in Wuxi, China, since this summer. Meanwhile, Hynix has started production of memory chips using 57nm process technologies at its site in Icheon, Gyeonggi Province, with these chips expected to make up 5% of total production by year’s end.
Hynix spokesperson Park Hyun told the Korea Times that slumping DRAM prices and subsequently severely dented profits have made the DRAM industry a “survival game,” and that any worries about technology leaked across borders are overblown, adding that ProMOS is producing the chips on commission.
The Chosun Ilbo notes that only Samsung and Hynix are mass producing memory chips with 60nm and below process technologies — an accomplishment significant enough that it has been added to the Korean government’s 40 core “technologies of national interest.” Under the Industrial Technology Drain Prevention Act, both firms must notify the government if such technology is shared across borders, the paper notes, and the Ministry of Commerce, Industry, and Energy can ban the export if deemed a threat to Korea’s national security.
Citing anonymous sources, the two papers framed the issue from both ends — that it is potentially a serious danger, but that Hynix has innocent reasons for doing so. The Korea Times quoted an unidentified source suggesting that while there have been no cases of technology leaked to Taiwanese rivals, “there is a high possibility that the unique technology could be leaked.” Meanwhile, an unidentified Hynix source suggested to the Chosun Ilbo that the risk of a technology leak is low, because ProMOS is primarily a foundry business — presumably meaning that its business model requires intense focus on technology IP security — and because the Wuxi plant only hires Chinese workers.