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The saga of chip technology transfer reaches France

Four senior executives at the French semiconductor outfit Ommic SAS are currently under investigation for sharing confidential technology with entities in China and Russia while skirting sanctions and export controls. Two French and two Chinese citizens working at the company have been placed under formal investigation since March this year after the allegation surfaced in the French newspaper Le Parisien.

The French industry minister Roland Lescure said that when the government warns about the risk of industrial espionage, it’s not like playing James Bond. Ommic’s technology portfolio includes gallium nitride (GaN) semiconductors, widely used in defense and aerospace electronics for their ability to operate on high voltages and sustain high temperatures.

Ommic, located in Limeil-Brévannes, France, 20 km outside Paris, has around 100 employees, and it focuses on metal organic chemical vapor deposition (MOCVD) epitaxial growth, wafer processing and fabrication, and monolithic microwave integrated circuits (MMICs) specializing in gallium arsenide (GaAs) and GaN semiconductors.

Le Parisien, which first reported on the case, also discovered that a Beijing-based Chinese businessman with ties to China’s defense industry had bought 94% of Ommic’s shares via a French-based investment fund in 2018. French authorities have stripped the majority stake of this Chinese investor while temporarily placing the company under state control before its sale to Macom.

The Lowell, Massachusetts-based chip company, which designs and manufactures RF, microwave, analog and mixed-signal, and optical semiconductors, paid $42.5 million to acquire Ommic in May 2023. “We look forward to building upon the existing team’s expertise in material science, semiconductor wafer processing and millimeter-wave MMIC design,” said Macom’s president and CEO Stephen G. Daly.

According to news reports, investigators have uncovered nearly $13 million worth of suspected technology exports. Here, the company’s French manager is suspected of personally delivering chips to Russian clients. Moreover, semiconductors products are suspected to be exported to armament manufacturers in China with the help of forged paperwork.

The semiconductor technology restrictions and export controls have taken a new turn with this Bloomberg news report about the transfer of French technology to China, especially when it’s about Ommic’s wafer processing technology. Semiconductor wafer processing and emerging technologies like GaN materials are critical to China’s ambitions of cultivating a robust chip industry.

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