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Computer engineer jailed for stealing chip data

A former employee of major microchip manufacturer Broadcom has been jailed in California after admitting to stealing trade secrets from the company and using these to augment his work for a tech startup based in China.

Computer engineer Peter Kim, 51, was sentenced to eight months by a federal court after pleading guilty to three counts of theft of trade secrets.

The court had heard how Kim knowingly took more than 500 digital files with him from his old job at Broadcom in 2020, copying these from company databases. In his two decades at the multinational, Kim worked on a variety of projects including its Trident range of computer chips used in high-volume data centers.

“He admitted to possessing Broadcom trade secrets related to the Trident family of chips, including those contained in test plans, design verification environment files, and design specifications,” said the US Department of Justice (DoJ), announcing the sentencing.

Kim admitted to using the pilfered knowledge, which he knew Broadcom had taken legitimate measures to protect, as reference material to further his work at the Chinese firm he subsequently joined.

“Kim repeatedly accessed and referenced the Broadcom trade secrets on his personal electronic devices as well as the laptop issued by his new employer,” said the DoJ. “He knew that having them could advance the quality of his work as an employee for his new employer and therefore economically benefit the company.”

This extended to reviewing Broadcom trade secrets while working on verification, test plan, and architecture documents for his new employer, the court heard.

Broadcom had taken “reasonable measures” to guard its secrets, including storing them on “non-public document repositories in which the access permissions were restricted.” In accessing them, Kim had violated a non-disclosure agreement with his former employer that should have been binding.

Kim also acknowledged that his new employer – which the DoJ did not name – was seeking to become a leading chip manufacturer, with a focus on the domestic Chinese market.

China has come under increasing fire by Western countries including the US, who accuse it of running a continuous and aggressive espionage campaign to steal high-tech data from its rivals.

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