Chinese national and materials scientist Hongjin Tan has pled guilty to stealing from his former employer Phillips 66 (“Phillips”) more than $1 billion in trade secrets related to next generation battery technology.
DOJ announced Tan’s guilty plea this week which revealed that he copied substantial research and development files that he knew contained protected company trade secrets. Only one day after copying the confidential files, Tan submitted a notice of resignation to Phillips and informed his manager that he would be returning to his home country of China. Given these red flags, the next day, Phillips contacted the FBI whose investigation uncovered that Tan had downloaded restricted information onto a personal USB drive and was allegedly offered a director position at a Chinese technology company with a $110,000 per year salary plus a $55,000 upfront payment in return for information on an unidentified Phillips product for the energy market.
In addition to the growing number of data breaches and cyber security threats, employees continue to pose a threat when attempting to safeguard valuable intellectual property and highlight the importance of entering into strong confidentiality agreements with employees especially those who deal with sensitive company information.