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Top Via execs indicted for industrial espionage

Top Via execs indicted for industrial espionage

The Taipei District Public Prosecutors Office has accused both the chairman and the chief executive officer of Via Technologies, a leading vendor of PC chipsets and other semiconductors, of copyright infringement and industrial espionage, a company executive has confirmed.

The prosecutors office has prepared an indictment that accuses Via president and CEO, Wenchi Chen, and his wife, Via chairman, Cher Wang, as well as Via engineer, Jeffrey Chang, of copyright infringement and industrial espionage, the company's associate vice-president of marketing, Richard Brown, said.

"We haven't received the indictment yet and there have been conflicting reports about what it actually involves," Brown said.

Via has been in communication with the prosecutors office, he said.

"The indictment should come in the mail over the next couple days," Brown said.

As far as Via was able to ascertain, the charges levelled against Chen, Wang and Chang in the indictment alleged that the three conspired and stole technology from one of Via's customers, networking equipment vendor D-Link, Brown said.

The prosecutor has asked for a four-year jail term for Wang and Chen and a three-year sentence for Chang, he said.

All three were innocent of the charges, Brown claimed.

An official at the prosecutors office declined to comment on the indictment.

A spokeswoman for D-Link could not be reached for comment.

In a statement filed with The Taiwan Stock Exchange yesterday, D-Link said: "The current circumstances of this matter do not have [an] immediate impact on D-Link's operations. ...D-Link is currently evaluating [the] impact on the value of the technologies involved in this matter."

This is not the first time that Via has been embroiled in allegations of stolen intellectual property. The company is currently being sued by Taiwanese optical chip vendor, Mediatek, which has accused Via of gaining improper access to Mediatek technology and copying code used in its optical disk controller firmware.

While details of the indictment related to the D-Link case were first leaked to the Taiwanese press last Friday, the origins of the case went back to 2000, when Chang resigned from Via to join D-Link, Brown said.

Chang submitted a letter of resignation when he left Via. However, that document and others related to Chang's resignation were not processed promptly and Chang received about $US5,854 in salary from Via during the first three months he worked for D-Link and was receiving a salary from D-Link, he said.

"If you've got a good engineer, you don't want to lose him," Brown said.

Via had sometimes delayed processing documents related to the resignations of key employees when an effort was made to keep them with the company, he said.

In 2001, Chang left D-Link to rejoin Via. After Chang rejoined Via, a D-Link document detailing a simulation program for testing integrated circuits was posted to an File Transfer Protocol (FTP) server that was owned by Via and accessible to Via employees and the company's customers, he said.

At that time, D-Link approached Via to demand that Chang be fired from Via for leaking the document but Via refused, Brown said.

"There's no evidence at all that he did that," he said.

Despite a lack of evidence that Chang posted the document to the Via FTP server, prosecutors seem to be trying to use the salary that Via paid Chang during his time at D-Link as evidence of a plot involving Wang, Chen and Chang to steal technology from D-Link, he said.

However, the allegations just didn't add up, Brown said.

Via executives would have to be pretty "stupid" to keep paying a salary to an employee that had been sent to steal information from another company and then post that information on an FTP server that was accessible outside Via, he said.

"It doesn't seem to make a lot of sense," Brown said.

The chip-testing technology which was allegedly stolen would be of no use to the company, he said.

"We've had no products under development in this area whatsoever," he said.

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