[THE INVESTOR] Nanopyxis, a Korean silver nanowire producer, said on Sept. 26 it is considering a lawsuit against C3nano, a California-based developer of transparent conductive links and films and its former business partner, in the US, raising concerns over possible technology leaks.
A Seoul court in July ordered an injunction to suspend the sales and production of C3nano Korea that has supplied silver nanowire to the US headquarters and its clients after the firm’s former and current executives were arrested for stealing some manufacturing technologies from Nanopyxis.
A C3nano research lab
“We think the US headquarters is also responsible for its Korean unit’s tech leak charges. Following our recent win in Korea, we are considering filing a suit in the US,” Nanopyxis CEO Lee Yong-sang told The Investor.
The tech leak controversy dates back to 2010 when Lee set up Nanopyxis to develop silver nanowire that is considered one of the direct replacements for idium tin oxide, the most widely used conductive material for display panels whose reserves are fast drying up.
With many more years left for mass production, some US and Japanese companies have jumped into the nascent but lucrative market. Nanopyxis also succeeded in the development with investment of more than 10 billion won (US$8.70 million), including 2 billion won from the government. The firm then started selling samples to global chemicals and conductive film makers, including C3nano.
But years later Lee found that CTO Choi Won-jong had been transferring key manufacturing technologies and other classified information such as clientele to operate a new entity called Aiden since 2012. In 2015, Choi and other co-founders, including Lee Jin-haeng, sold off their entire stake in Aiden to C3nano. The firm was then renamed as C3nano Korea.
“C3nano acquired Aiden when it was also talking with Nanopyxis for a possible merger,” Lee said, citing several meetings with C3nano CEO Cliff Morris in Seoul at the time. “Our sales were hit hard by the acquisition. We also lost key clients.”
After years of legal battles, Korean prosecutors arrested Choi on charges of tech leaks in April this year, while three others, including Lee, were indicted on the same charges. Nanopyxis’ injunction to halt the operation of C3nano Korea was also accepted in July.
“We are concerned that the US headquarters could seek to transfer technologies from the Korean unit before shutting it down,” Lee added.
C3nano’s flagship product is the Nanoglue technology that acts to fuse the conductive silver nanowires into a conductive network or grid. The Korean unit has served as a production base of the crucial material.
Based on the technology, the firm attracted US$15 million funding from multiple investors, including GSR Ventures, Nissha Printing and Xinjiang Guoli Minsheng Equity Investment, this year alone. Since its establishment in 2010, its total equity funding reaches US$37 million.
Andrew Moon, a senior business manager at C3nano, declined to comment on The Investor’s inquiries, including the firm’s future plans for securing silver nanowires.
By Lee Ji-yoon (firstname.lastname@example.org