On April 20th, U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. introduced Senate bill S. 1245, “The Combating Chinese Purloining (CCP) of Trade Secrets Act.” The full text of the bill is not yet available, but a press release announcing the legislation highlighted key features of the CCP, including:

  • increasing the maximum penalty from 5 to 20 years of imprisonment for individuals who use “communication interception devices” to aid a foreign government;
  • expanding trade secret misappropriation penalties for foreign persons, including by: the U.S. Customs and Border Protection imposing import restrictions, the U.S. Department of Commerce denying export licenses, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office rejecting applications for patent protection, and the U.S. Department of State denying visas;
  • creating grounds for inadmissibility and deportability for individuals that seek to enter, or remain in, the U.S. to engage in espionage and intellectual property theft; and
  • prohibiting the issuance of visas to Chinese nationals who present a national security risk and to prevent their pursuit of graduate-level coursework in sensitive fields.

Senator Graham noted that his introduced legislation “is designed to deter behavior, much of it from China, that results in the loss of trade secrets, intellectual property, and sensitive government research.” The bill has been formally introduced in the Senate and referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Of the CCP’s various provisions, its effort to restrict access to government-funded research projects is especially relevant after the U.S. Department of Justice (“DOJ”), in April, announced the sentencing of Yu Zhou to 33 months in prison for conspiring to steal trade secrets. Zhou, a biotech researcher and Chinese national, pleaded guilty for stealing scientific trade secrets related to exosome isolation technology from the Nationwide Children’s Hospital’s Research Institute in Ohio. As we previously mentioned, the DOJ has also recently issued indictments that include a Harvard professor and an MIT professor in connection with various offenses connected to their involvement with the People’s Republic of China.

Senator Graham’s proposed legislation appears to address this same issue. Any graduate-level course work conducted by a “covered person” from China in sensitive areas such as military intelligence and nuclear engineering would require approval from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. The legislation would also criminalize any failure to disclose foreign funding for certain categories of such “covered research.”

This proposed legislation is a small part of the flurry of activity surrounding the Biden administration and DOJ’s focus on intellectual property theft by China-linked actors. As we previously discussed, combatting national security threats presented by China will remain a priority for the Biden administration, a priority which is likely to find bipartisan support in Congress.