Samsung’s latest bendable screen technology has been stolen and sold to two Chinese companies, according to prosecutors in South Korea. The folding screen technology has been kept as ‘classified’ in South Korea, but it got ‘de-classified’ by thieves.
The prosecutors allege that a Samsung supplier leaked blueprints of Samsung’s “flexible OLED edge panel 3D lamination” to a company that it had set up. That company then sold the tech secrets to the Chinese firms for nearly $14 million, according to the prosecutors.
The illicit knowledge transfer included what Bloomberg described as an organic light-emitting diode (OLED) “knowhow.” Samsung makes its signature curve-edged phone screens from OLEDs. A soon it will be working that OLED magic for its upcoming foldable phone.
Samsung spent about 150 billion won over a period of six years to develop the OLED technology that is now considered highly-classified national knowledge, the prosecution said
The Suwon District Prosecutor’s Office charged 11 people on Thursday with stealing tech secrets from Samsung (SSNLF), and selling them to China, the office said in a statement.
In a statement, Samsung Display said it was “shocked at the results of the investigation by prosecutors, at a time when competitors are intensifying their technological rivalry,” adding that it would keep a close eye on the trial.
The specific companies involved are not named. The 11 people are accused of receiving 15.5bn won (£10.8m) in exchange for providing information about Samsung’s flexible screen technology.
The hardware that is alleged to have been stolen is used to create the curved screens found on the edges of Samsung’s popular Galaxy line of smartphones, prosecutors said.
Prosecutors said they were caught when they were found to have loaded hardware onto a ship that was due to sail to China.
The group is accused of using a shell company, separate phones, and personal email addresses to transmit confidential information from Samsung. Toptech’s share price fell over 20pc on Thursday following the prosecutors’ announcement.
Intellectual property theft is a national concern for South Korea as it tries to maintain its narrowing technology lead over China. The mainland is pouring billions into becoming self-sustaining in areas such as memory chips and displays, two fields where Samsung is the world leader. Curved-edge OLED screens have become a signature feature of the Suwon-based company’s high-end Galaxy smartphones, including Note 9.
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