Trump’s China Deal Creates Collateral Damage for Tech Firms


“To advance the Chinese government’s five-year economic plan, a company owned by the Chinese state allegedly stole Micron’s designs, valued at up to $8.7 billion,” the president said. “Soon, the Chinese company obtains patents for nearly an identical product, and Micron was banned from selling its own goods in China. But we are seeking justice.”

“For years, these abuses were tolerated, ignored or even encouraged,” Mr. Trump added. “But as far as America is concerned, those days are over.”

Chip makers initially supported the Trump administration’s willingness to take on China. Companies had long grumbled about intellectual property theft and unfair treatment in the Chinese market, but they had little recourse: Going public about their troubles could spook investors and invite Chinese retaliation.

Then, in April 2018, the administration announced $50 billion in tariffs that would directly hit semiconductor companies by raising prices for imported equipment and materials. A chip finished in China would be subject to a 25 percent tariff, even if its components had been made in America.

The tariffs caught the industry by surprise. The Semiconductor Industry Association, a trade group, pushed back, telling the United States trade representative in July 2018 that the tariffs would “undermine U.S. technological leadership, cost jobs, and adversely impact U.S. consumers of semiconductor products and the U.S. semiconductor producers.”

Some industry executives grew more nervous as Mr. Trump escalated his trade fight and the prospect of an economic rupture between the United States and China became more real. Chinese customers shifted their purchases to suppliers in South Korea, Taiwan and elsewhere.

Mr. Trump’s trade pact did ink some victories — it includes greater protections for companies like Micron, including preliminary injunctions and expanded legal recourse for theft of trade secrets. It also contains new promises from China to refrain from pressuring American businesses to transfer their technology to Chinese companies, and it allows American companies to sue individuals, including former employees and hackers.

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