The chair of Temple University’s physics department has been indicted for allegedly providing U.S. technology to China. Dr. Xioaxing Xi, a U.S. citizen and native of China, is an expert in the field of magnesium diboride thin film superconducting technology. According to the indictment, Xi was involved in a scheme over many years to funnel thin film superconducting technology to third parties in China.

The indictment alleges:

  • In 2002, Xi participated in China’s 863 Program, which was a Chinese government program intended to boost high-technology innovation and development in China.
  • In 2002 to 2003, Xi took a sabbatical from his university position and worked with an un-named U.S. company in the field of thin film superconductivity research. During this time period, the company invented a technology that revolutionized the field of superconducting magnesium diboride thin film growth.
  • In January 2004, Xi attempted to obtain the technology from the company and applied for and was awarded a U.S. Defense Department (DoD) grant to finance his purchase of the device for research relevant to the DOD.
  • In January 2006, Xi was able to obtain the device for one year subject to an agreement that he not reproduce, sell, transfer or otherwise distribute the device or any copies of the device to any third party.
  • Xi allegedly signed the agreement as part of a scheme to defraud the company into providing him the technology, so that he could provide it to entities in China in order to further exploit use of the technology.
  • In exchange, it is alleged Xi sought lucrative and prestigious appointments in China.

Temple University announced that Dr. Xi has taken a temporary leave of absence “to focus on the matter at hand.” The University noted that he remains a member of the faculty. Xi previously worked at Penn State University.

Dr. Xi appeared in court last week to post bail of $100,000.

This indictment comes just a few days after the arrest of Professor Hao Zhang for economic espionage. The cases are similar in that both involve China, work for major U.S. companies, involvement of major universities, and the development of advanced technology under DoD funding.

Both cases should prompt serious questions by academic institutions, companies, and government about trade secret protection. The Xi indictment in particular raises questions about how universities should best proceed in these situations.