United Microelectronics joins U.S. companies in distancing itself from Fujian Jinhua
TAIPEI — Taiwan’s United Microelectronics Corp. (UMC) has shelved an R&D project with Chinese chipmaker Fujian Jinhua after the U.S. government ordered a ban on supplies of equipment to the company.
The U.S. government on Monday cut off U.S. firms from supplying Fujian Jinhua following allegations that the Chinese fab stole intellectual property from U.S. semiconductor company Micron Technology. The move comes as the U.S. escalates a trade war with China that is increasingly focused on high-tech products.
UMC and Jinhua started a project in May 2016 to develop technology for DRAM chips. Jinhua agreed to supply equipment and an unspecified amount of money to UMC for development of the technology at a UMC fab in Tainan, Taiwan. As part of the agreement, the partners would jointly own the technology. UMC planned to use the technology for its foundry customers and did not plan to enter DRAM production or invest in Jinhua.
“We are just following the regulations set forth by the Taiwan government and the U.S. government,” UMC spokesman Richard Yu told EE Times regarding the suspended R&D project. Taiwan’s Bureau of Foreign Trade issued a bulletin to domestic companies regarding business with Fujian Jinhua following the U.S. government ban.
Yu was unable to elaborate on what technology, if any, UMC has transferred to Jinhua at this stage. He noted that the R&D project has been underway for more than two years.
The U.S. Commerce Dept. said that Fujian Jinhua is nearing completion of its DRAM fab and that its technology likely originated in the U.S. The Chinese company, which has invested $5.7 billion in a 12-inch fab in Fujian Province’s Jinjiang City, is scheduled to start its first production this year.
With the support of the Chinese government, several startups in the nation aim to make memory chips to reduce dependence on imports of semiconductors.
UMC’s R&D work for Jinhua has been done at the 32nm node, which is several generations behind state-of-the-art technology for DRAM production. UMC developed its DRAM technology a number of years ago, Yu said.
It is possible that Jinhua might eventually shrink the technology acquired from UMC, but UMC was not contracted to do further refinements, according to Yu.
It is likely that Jinhua plans to use the technology to make commodity DRAM.
UMC is part of a joint-venture investment with another Fujian chipmaker called United Semi in the city of Xiamen, but the Taiwan company has no equity relationship with Fujian Jinhua.