The prosecution has nabbed former Samsung Electronics employees who
tried to set up a plant in China by stealing seventh-generation liquid
crystal display (LCD) core technologies and poaching the company¡¯s
R&D staff. A former Samsung researcher identified as Park, 44, is
charged with conspiring with current researchers to steal 10 thin-film
transistor (TFT) LCD technologies and set up a color filter plant in
Samsung Electronics is now the world leader in that field,
accounting for 45.3 percent of the global TFT-LCD market. In investment
in seventh-generation technology, too, Samsung leads the world. Spurred
by a boom in camera phones and digital media broadcasting (DMB) phones,
several countries have boosted investment in the TFT-LCDs these gadgets
use. Samsung Electronics is said to have invested W262 billion (US$262
million) in the seventh generation technology. Market researchers
estimate that Korea could have lost W5 trillion over the next five
years if the attempt had succeeded.
The IT era has made it almost more important to safeguard
technology than to develop it. Cutting-edge core technologies can mean
sink or swim not just for corporations but for nations. Yet we continue
to hemorrhage technology. According to the Ministry of Commerce,
Industry and Energy, of the altogether 80 foiled attempts since 1998 to
spirit core technology abroad, 29 happened last year.
Combined losses if they had all succeeded are estimated at W79
trillion. So much industrial espionage is of course attributable to the
fact that Korean firms rank first in the world in cutting-edge IT
technology. Chinese and Taiwanese companies have taken to jumping the
gun in acquiring such technologies in the semiconductor, LCD, plasma
display panel (PDP) and code division multiple access (CDMA) sectors by
simply buying the Korean firms that invented them.
To stop that leakage of technology, we must urgently adapt the
security framework to new threats. We do have laws protecting business
secrets, but they focus on punishment after the fact. What we need is
prevention. In adapting it, however, we have to steer clear of causing
a brain drain in science and engineering jobs or limiting the freedom
of start-ups with red tape.
The most important thing is for individual businesses to build
up their security infrastructure. Only 47 percent of companies have
confidentiality rules, and only 34 percent carry out security checks.
Security consciousness has substantially improved in large businesses
but is still negligible in small and medium-sized venture companies
that often drive innovation.
In Japan, the Hitachi Group attempts to block information
leakage through PCs by replacing all the 300,000 business-use PCs
within the group with company network terminals by 2008. Staff will
then be banned from storing, inputting or copying information for
personal purposes. Among other measures, we need to improve the
treatment of R&D personnel. For that to happen, businesses need to
move away from a mindset that regards security control as an expense
and sees it instead for the investment in their future that it is.