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Why should you care about counterfeit semiconductors? Semiconductors are embedded into numerous products and systems that perform critical functions in our daily lives, and the failure of a single component in one of these products or systems can have dire health and safety consequences.  Here are some key examples discovered by the Semiconductor Industry Association (SIA):

  • A counterfeit semiconductor component was identified in an automated external defibrillator (AED) that is used with heart attack victims, resulting in a defibrillator over-voltage condition.
  • A broker shipped counterfeit microcontrollers intended for use in braking systems in high-speed trains across Europe.
  • A counterfeit semiconductor failed in a power supply used for airport landing lights.
  • A broker shipped counterfeit microprocessors intended for use in automated medication applications, including intravenous (IV) drip machines.

In addition to these public health and safety issues, counterfeit semiconductors pose serious risks to global supply chains and military infrastructure. Counterfeit semiconductors cost the U.S. semiconductor industry an estimated $7.5 billion per year, which translates into nearly 11,000 lost American jobs. They are a growing problem for the U.S. and many other countries, despite gradual improvements in intellectual property rights enforcement around the world. Often harvested from electronic waste, most counterfeit semiconductors are components repackaged to indicate they are newer than the originals or they perform to a higher standard.

Last month, President Obama indicated his concern about this issue when he said he will sign into law a customs bill passed by the U.S. Senate that includes a provision to combat counterfeit semiconductors. The bill, known as the Trade Facilitation and Trade Enforcement Act of 2015 (H.R. 644/S.1269), mandates that U.S. Customs and Border Protection share information and samples of suspected counterfeit parts for rapid identification of counterfeits.

The bill, which passed the U.S. House of Representatives in 2015, had been bogged down in the Senate due to a fight over the extension of a ban on Internet taxes included in the legislation. Fortunately, it passed last month by a 75-20 vote.

SIA president and CEO John Neuffer explained, “Counterfeit chips pose significant risks to public health, safety and national security. The customs bill Congress approved…will help reduce this risk and root out counterfeit semiconductors by ensuring open communication between customs officials and semiconductor manufacturers, who are best-equipped to identify counterfeits.”

According to the SIA, U.S. Customs and Border Protection has previously redacted images of suspicious semiconductors and delayed sharing information with companies that play a vital role in determining if parts are counterfeit.

White House press secretary Josh Earnest issued a statement saying, “The legislation would strengthen trade enforcement at our ports and borders and improve our ability to stop evasion of our trade laws; improve transparency, accountability, and coordination in enforcement efforts; and give us unprecedented new tools to address unfair currency practices.”

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Ryan Lahti is the founder and managing principal of OrgLeader, LLC. Stay up to date on Ryan’s STEM-based organization tweets here: @ryanlahti

(Photo: Circuit, Flickr)