The government's move to incorporate semiconductor equipment technology into the “national core technology” designation has been discovered.
Controversy will likely ensue in the semiconductor field as it does among the large panel makers and the small and medium-sized equipment makers over designating organic light emitting diode (OLED) equipment technology as the national core technology.
According to industry sources, the Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Energy, and the National Intelligence Service Industry Confidentiality Protection Center have been exchanging opinions with major companies to include semiconductor equipment technology as a national core technology since the end of last year. It is the explanation by an official familiar with the matter that the discussion is being carried out with a strong will to ‘include it in the list.’
According to the Ministry of Industry Notice (No. 2018-04), currently, the national core technology in the semiconductor industry is 'Design, process, device technology, and 3-dimensional lamination technology equivalent to 30nm or less DRAM.’ The addition of 'equipment' to some of the seven items is the focus of the national core technology notification and revision activities currently underway.
When equipment technology is included in the list, it should be approved or reported to the government when exporting to China. Technology developed with the support of research and development (R & D) subsidies from the government should receive approval, and if not, it is a matter that should be reported. If equipment technology is designated as the national core technology, most semiconductor equipment companies that deal with Samsung Electronics and SK Hynix should receive approval or report to the government for every export.
The equipment industry is strongly opposing the designation arguing that it acts as a strong regulation against exports under the name of national core technology. Export approval is made at the Industrial Technology Protection Committee, which is held once every two to three months, making time-to-market difficult. An equipment industry official said, "If someone signifies an issue, the government's approval may be delayed for a long time, causing the export route to be blocked. The semiconductor equipment field of Korea is still weak compared to that of the US, Europe, and Japan. We wish that the government does not decrease the industry’s competitiveness with regulations.”.
The group that favors this designation argues that it is logically right to include the core technology developed by government funding in the national core technology list. Even without government funding, semiconductor design, process, and device technology are all included, they claim, saying that it is not right to exclude the equipment alone from the list.
The debate about including semiconductor equipment into the national core technology list has been led by Korean major companies at the end of 2017. At the time, however, the discussion was canceled due to the disagreements from the equipment industry and academia.