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Apple crunch down on the theft of trade secrets

An Apple employee, and Chinese citizen, has been accused of stealing trade secrets this week in relation to the company’s self-driving car technology. The matter is no doubt adding to escalating tensions between the US and China which we have reported on here and here.

For some time now, the US (amongst some other Western countries) has accused China of stealing trade secrets and intellectual property from technology companies. The accusations mounted last year, resulting in the volatile and ongoing China-US trade war.

The accused in question, Jizhong Chen, is being charged with stealing trade secrets during his time working on the covertly named ‘Project Titan’ i.e Apple’s self-driving car project. Chen was employed by the company last summer as part of a team of 5000 employees who are working on the project. He was part of the electrical engineering team and, more importantly, part of an even smaller team that was involved with the project at a closer level: the claim does not explicitly explain exactly what this smaller team did.

Chen was spotted by fellow Apple employees taking photographs at work, prompting the involvement of the FBI. It was then discovered that Chen had “thousands” of confidential files on his own personal computer which he had purposely backed up to a hard drive. The files found on Chen’s computer included photographs of computer screens containing sensitive material, manuals and diagrams.

Chen was scheduled to fly to China but was arrested one day prior to his departure. The consequences of intellectual property theft of this type are serious and Chen could face up to 10 years in prison and a maximum fine of $250,000.

Chen is the second Chinese national to be arrested that worked for Apple in the last 6 months. In July 2018, Xiaolang Zhang was arrested for the theft of trade secrets moments before boarding a flight to China.

If you have any questions on the above, please do not hesitate to contact the team at McDaniel & Co. on 0191 281 4000 or legal@mcdanielslaw.com.