Wed, Jul 22, 2009 - Page 12 News List

Ministry earmarks DRAM funds

MAJOR PLAYERS: The vice minister of economic affairs said the US and Japan have only one major DRAM firm each, South Korea has two, but Taiwan has six companies

By Elizabeth Tchii and Lisa Wang  /  STAFF REPORTERS

Vice Minister of Economic Affairs Hwang Jung-chiou (黃重球) said yesterday the government would allocate a maximum of NT$30 billion (US$915 million) to support one or two local dynamic random access memory (DRAM) companies to compete with South Korean firms.

Hwang’s remark came after the Industrial Development Bureau (IDB) announced earlier yesterday new and existing players may now apply for capital investment from the National Development Fund if they meet four major criteria set by the IDB.

“The Ministry of Economic Affair’s [MOEA] mission has always been consistent ... which is to help the local DRAM industry survive this difficult time and transform the sector from a ­production-­intensive business model highly dependent on order flow, to one driven by innovation,” Hwang told a press briefing. “We do not call this a rescue plan, but rather a rebuilding project.”

Earlier this year, the government said it would establish a new firm, the Taiwan Memory Co (TMC, 台灣記憶體公司), by pumping in NT$10 billion in public funds to save the nation’s DRAM sector. The plan has come under fire and fueled skepticism about whether TMC’s plan to develop its own technologies in collaboration with Japan’s Elpida Memory Inc would work.

Hwang yesterday dismissed speculation that TMC’s inability to gain traction from local chipmakers was a failure. He also declined to comment on whether TMC would be one of the chosen parties.

Instead, he said that countries like Japan and the US have only one major DRAM company each, while South Korea has two big ones. Taiwan, in contrast, has six significant players.

“If the government allows the domestic DRAM industry to falter, a mass engineering brain drain will ensue, banks will have massively uncollected debt, investors will suffer greatly and a leading national industry will disappear overnight,” Hwang said.

“The formation of Elpida in Japan is unique because the Japanese government mandated a consolidation of several DRAM companies into Elpida. But such a scenario is unlikely to happen in Taiwan where there are too many divergent voices and production standards vary from company to company,” he said.

The IDB’s four main requirements for the application include the ability to efficiently obtain overseas intellectual property and technology usage rights, as well as fair and balanced research and development records from both domestic firms and overseas partners.

It also demands that the international collaboration must provide adequate training of local engineering talent, and lastly, the re-organization plan must aim to improve existing company structure and incorporate possible merger and acquisition possibilities.

“The draft measures seem to be in favor of TMC as it is planning to develop technologies with Elpida and is mulling acquiring capacities from shaky DRAM companies,” Liu Szu-liang (劉思良), a DRAM industry analyst with Yuanta Securities and Investment Consulting (元大投顧), said by telephone. “But, it is still good that local DRAM makers can get fresh cash to help them ride out this downturn.”

The application submission process for state funds started yesterday and will last for three months.

“Afterward, there will be another three-month inspection period to examine all the documents to make sure they meet the criteria set by the IDB,” Hwang said.

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