Applied Materials has filed a lawsuit against Chinese competitor Mattson, alleging a systematic theft of confidential trade secrets over a period of 14 months, reports DigiTimes. Applied asserts that Mattson, which was acquired by Beijing E-Town Dragon Semiconductor Industry Investment Center in 2016, undertook a coordinated campaign to poach 17 of its top engineers, a move which allegedly led to the illegal transfer of semiconductor designs.
"Applied Materials vigorously safeguards its intellectual property from theft or unlawful use," a spokesperson for Applied Materials told Tom's Hardware. "We are taking legal action to ensure our intellectual property rights are protected. We cannot comment further on pending legal actions."
According to the lawsuit, the engineers — including a senior department manager — hired away by Mattson had access to classified information including fab production technologies as well as Applied Material's roadmap. The lawsuit was launched in 2022, with the last departure said to have provided definitive proof of industrial espionage. Applied Materials contends that this theft could provide Mattson with a significant competitive edge in technological development.
In response to the allegations, Mattson has maintained its innocence, insisting that the claims are baseless and will ultimately be disproven. Meanwhile, Canfeng Lai, a director at Mattson, admitted to sending documents from his work email to a personal account, but claims this was to keep a record of his achievements. Lai denies using any of the confidential information in his new role at Mattson or disclosing it to any third parties.
The lawsuit details a number of suspicious activities surrounding the exodus of key employees, including that most wiped their company-issued devices and were evasive or dishonest about their new employer. Specific emphasis was placed on Lai's attempts to download sensitive information following his acceptance of a job offer from Mattson. Despite his assertions that his new role at Mattson is unrelated to the stolen technology, Applied Materials remains firm in its allegations of a carefully planned and executed act of industrial espionage.