[Updated with DQS response below.]

The US Dept of Justice has indicted the Chinese semiconductor firm United Microelectronics Corporation (UMC), accusing it of working to steal trade secrets from US-based company Micron. UMC holds multiple ISO 9001 certificates issued by the certification body DQS, and accredited by ANAB.

The indictment claims that UMC lacked dynamic access random memory (DRAM) technology, and obtained it through the theft of Micron’s proprietary 25-nanometer process trade secret information. Employees of UMC and another Chinese firm, Fujian Jinhua Integrated Circuit, stole three sources of the secret information, including a detailed process traveler for Micron’s 25 nm DRAM manufacturing process. i

The semiconductor industry is constantly seeking to miniaturize the area used to hold memory capacitors, while simultaneously increasing the number of capacitors that can be laid down in that area. As a result, Micron’s 25 nm process was highly sought after.

Micron is competing against Samsung to further reduce the technology, as both companies pursue a next-generation 16nm and 10nm processes.

UMC holds at least half a dozen ISO 9001 certificates for a number of its Chinese and Singaporean companies, all apparently certified solely by DQS. The same sites were previously certified to ISO 9001:2008 by DQS as well. The certs bear the signature of DQS CEO Brad McGuire, and the accreditation logo of ANAB and the International Accreditation Forum. Oxebridge has confirmed the certificates are current and valid, and that DQS has not withdrawn the certs despite the indictment of their client.

DQS officials did not immediately reply to a request for comment on the indictment.

The ISO 9001 certification wing of Underwriters Laboratories (UL) was purchased by DQS in 2008. UL, and thereafter DQS, had put Oxebridge on an internal “blacklist,” refusing to provide ISO 9001 certification services to Oxebridge clients, in response to reporting published about UL’s activities.

Oxebridge is calling on the industry to better police the issuance of such certifications, which are increasingly found having been issued to companies involved in crimes, deadly product recalls and global disasters.

UPDATE: 14 November 2018.

CQS CEO Brad McGuire has responded to this report, and writes:

DQS has conducted an investigation and determined that the activities in question by DOJ are outside the scope of certification issued to the United Microelectronics wafer foundries.

When asked to clarify if he meant the facilities were not within the scope of the DQS certifications, or if the facilities were in scope but their activities were not, Mr. McGuire responded cryptically, only saying “Both.” It’s not clear how the DQS scope of certification would exclude both the activities and the facilities.

Subsequently, Oxebridge has conducted further investigation which adds questions as to DQS’ response. The DOJ indictment cites a US patent application by the defendants and UMC; that UMC address indicated in the patent application matches the Hsin-Chu City Taiwan address of the UMC facilities on multiple ISO 9001 certificates issued by DQS. Furthermore, multiple DQS certificates list the scope of the ISO 9001 quality system as “the design of IP/Library and the associated manufacture of Integrated Circuit wafers.” In this context, “IP” refers to “intellectual property,” which is typically loaded as an “IP core” onto a chip, obtained from a library of technological intellectual property coming from the company or partner organizations. The DOJ indictment alleges this IP was stolen from Micron, meaning that the indictment appears to address exactly the subject of DQS’s scope of certifications, despite Mr. McGuire’s claim.

The DQS certificates also clearly cover design activities conducted in the company’s headquarters, and not merely the activities of the “wafer foundries” as claimed by Mr. McGuire. Mr. McGuire has been contacted for clarification.

The full set of DQS certificates issued to UMC can be downloaded here. The patent application filed by UMC can be downloaded here.