On March 26, Samsung Electronics asked the Ministry of Trade, Industry & Energy to determine whether work environment reports related to its semiconductor manufacturing plants constitute South Korea’s national key technology after the Ministry of Employment & Labor told Samsung Electronics to disclose the reports in response to industrial accident victims’ request for information disclosure.
According to the current law, the national key technology is defined as any technology that is highly valuable in economic or technical aspects and can significantly affect South Korea’s national economy in the event of leakage. Most advanced technologies related to semiconductors, displays, smartphones and so on currently constitute the national key technology.
With controversy brewing over the issue, a high-ranking official at the Ministry of Trade, Industry & Energy said on April 12 that disclosure of key parts such as manufacturing facility arrangement should be conducted with prudence, although chemical material combinations that can be estimated by any expert may become open to the public, in that foreign experts and companies can access decades of know-how from even a very trivial tip. “The final decision will be made by an expert committee,” he said, adding, “Full disclosure is rather unlikely with regard to semiconductor manufacturing processes, which take about 60 days as a whole.”
Minister Paik Un-kyu made similar remarks. “A balance is required between the people’s right to know and state secrets,” he commented, adding, “We are talking over this matter with the Ministry of Employment & Labor, closely monitoring the possibility of tech leak.”
Samsung Electronics expressed serious concerns over the matter, saying that each and every chemical material used in the processes is a top secret. The high-ranking official made a negative comment about display technology disclosure, too. “Display manufacturing processes are very short and a finished product is produced in just three to four days, which means the risk of technology leakage soars in the event of disclosure,” he explained, continuing, “Disclosure of work environment reports containing LCD manufacturing processes is a matter requiring extreme caution.” Samsung Display is going to make the same request as Samsung Electronics sooner or later. At present, both Samsung Electronics and Samsung Display are adhering to zero disclosure.
The work environment reports in question, which should be submitted to the Ministry of Employment & Labor every six months, contain measurement results regarding the degree of exposure to hazardous substances, the frequency of use of such substances, etc. Details discussed at the expert committee of the Trade, Industry & Energy Ministry are scheduled to be shared with Samsung Electronics and the Employment & Labor Ministry.