A lawsuit has been filed against US-based Micron by Chinese chipmaker Yangtze Memory Technologies (YMTC) over an alleged infringement of eight of its patents.

The lawsuit from YMTC was filed in early November and alleges Micron used YMTC’s patented technology to protect market share and fight off competition from the Chinese company.

YMTC also alleges that Micron did not pay its fair share to use the patented tech. 

In a statement to Reuters, YMTC said that it was unable to discuss the specifics of pending litigation but confirmed the lawsuit has been filed for “infringement of our company’s patents related to the design, manufacture, and operation of 3D NAND technology.”

“We are confident that this matter will be resolved swiftly,” the statement added.

US-based Micron’s product portfolio includes dynamic random-access memory (DRAM) chips, DRAM modules, and NAND flash memory chips. The company is a direct rival with a number of global heavyweights, including South Korea’s Samsung and Japan’s SK Hynix

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YMTC, while still a rival, is a much smaller player in the industry. The Chinese company took a blow from US President Joe Biden’s export restrictions last year, after it was banned from buying a plethora of key semiconductor components from the US. 

US restrictions on the export of semiconductor equipment have been strengthening over the past few years, with much of the focus being on China. 

In May, Micron itself failed a network security review, according to the Cyberspace Administration of China. The operators of key infrastructure in the country have been banned from purchasing any equipment from Micron as a result of the failure. 

At the beginning of November, China’s Commerce Minister Wang Wentao said China would welcome a deeper presence from Micron within the country. 

A brief statement on China’s Commerce Ministry website confirmed that several investment and product guarantees would be instated for foreign businesses, perhaps signalling a thawing of US-China relations. 

Micron reported revenues of $15.54bn for the fiscal year ended August 2023, a decrease of 49.5% over 2022, according to GlobalData’s company database.

The news comes as China continues to hold a significant lead in the number of semiconductor patents filed.

From the beginning of January 2022 to October 2023, the country filed just over 1 million patents regarding semiconductors. In the same time frame, the US filed 657,000 semiconductor patents.

“China aims to be a world leader in AI by 2030,” the research company said in its 2023 Thematic Intelligence Artificial Intelligence report, “and it is investing heavily to make that happen.”

“China’s strengths in AI are mainly in applications that rely on vast troves of data, such as biometrics, to power algorithims but the country remains weak in other AI areas like semiconductors,” it added.