The U.S. government is continuing its endeavor of prosecuting individuals for the theft of U.S. trade secrets and for allegedly selling or bringing these trade secrets to China. The U.S. government is demonstrating that it considers the protection of trade secrets, particularly those used in national defense and other essential technology, to be a priority.

On October 1, 2020, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Massachusetts reported that Haoyang Yu, a U.S. citizen who was born in China, his wife Yanzhi Chen, and their company Tricon MMIC LLC, were charged in a 24-count indictment for the alleged theft of American trade secrets worth millions of dollars from Analog Devices. Analog Devices, which has its headquarters in Norwood, Massachusetts, is an international semiconductor company. Yu was charged in 2019 with stealing, downloading, and copying Analog Devices’ trade secrets. Now, he and his wife have been charged with possession and attempted possession of a trade secret; transporting stolen goods; smuggling; visa fraud; and procuring U.S. citizenship unlawfully.
Continue Reading Chinese Individual Indicted for Alleged Trade Secret Theft from Semiconductor Company

Recent United States Department of Justice (“DOJ”) indictments of Chinese hackers provide a reminder that trade secrets and other intellectual property stored on databases are attractive targets to bad actors. The DOJ announced that seven international defendants were charged in connection with computer intrusion campaigns impacting more than 100 victims in the United States and abroad.

The victims of the cyberattacks included software development companies, computer hardware manufacturers, telecommunications providers, social media companies, video game companies, non-profit organizations, universities, think tanks, and foreign governments. The hacking facilitated the theft of source code, software code signing certificates, customer account data, and other valuable business information. These cyberattacks also enabled the defendants’ other criminal schemes, including ransomware attacks and “crypto-jacking” schemes, which involve the unauthorized use of victim computers to “mine” cryptocurrency.


Continue Reading DOJ Indictment of Chinese Hackers for Break-Ins at 100 Companies Reinforces The Importance of Protecting Trade Secrets and Implementing Security Protections

The U.S. Department of Justice has secured yet another conviction against a Chinese national for trade secret theft which is part of a larger push to protect valuable intellectual property.

Li Chen, a long time biotech researcher in a medical lab at Nationwide Children’s Hospital Research Institute in Ohio, pled guilty to conspiracy to misappropriate trade secrets and conspiracy to commit wire fraud.  Chen, and her husband Yu Zhou, a fellow biotech researcher, were indicted in September 2019 following an extensive investigation. The indictment and plea agreement details their efforts to steal trade secrets related to exosome isolation technology, which represents a critical development in the diagnosis and treatment of pediatric diseases, including liver cancer and a condition found in premature babies.

Continue Reading Chinese Biotech Researcher Pleads Guilty to Trade Secret Misappropriation

This week, the U.S. government continued its enforcement activity against Chinese government-sponsored trade secret theft, indicting two Chinese hackers for allegedly stealing data from 25 domestic and international companies, including targeting those now researching COVID-19 testing, vaccines, and treatment. The two defendants had allegedly acquired hundreds of millions of dollars worth of trade secrets and other valuable business information across a span of nearly eleven years. This announcement follows in the wake of the indictment of Dr. Charles Lieber, a former Harvard professor, who allegedly lied about his participation in China’s “Thousand Talents Plan,” a program that has been accused of facilitating the stealing of American trade secrets. Our coverage of that indictment is here.

On Tuesday, July 21, 2020, the U.S. Department of Justice (“DOJ”) announced charges against Li Xiaoyu and Dong Jiazhi in the Eastern District of Washington, alleging that they hacked the computer networks of 13 United States and 12 international companies in industries ranging from high tech manufacturing and medical device engineering to solar energy and pharmaceuticals, all between September 2009 and July 2020.
Continue Reading DOJ Targets Chinese Hackers for Stealing United States Trade Secrets

The trade secrets of American industries and research institutions are often the target of foreign interests, as this blog has detailed in the past. Most recently, on June 9, 2020, the U.S. Department of Justice (“DOJ”) indicted the former Chair of Harvard University’s Chemistry and Chemical Biology Department and nanoscientist, Dr. Charles Lieber, for allegedly making false statements to federal authorities about his participation in China’s “Thousand Talents Plan.” This Plan, according to a 2019 Senate report, is part of China’s “strategic plan to acquire knowledge and intellectual property from researchers, scientists, and the U.S. private sector.” Past participants in the Plan have included a former General Electric engineer, Xiaoqing Zheng, who was indicted in April 2019 for allegedly stealing GE’s trade secrets related to turbine technology while employed at GE Power & Water in Schenectady, New York.

China’s Thousand Talents Plan began in 2008 and has been a concern of the U.S. government for some time. A 2019 Senate report characterized the Plan as a danger to American national security and proprietary information and stated that it “incentivizes individuals engaged in research and development in the United States to transmit the knowledge and research they gain [in the United States] to China in exchange for salaries, research funding, lab space, and other incentives.”
Continue Reading Harvard Professor Indicted for Allegedly Lying About Participation in Chinese Talent Recruitment Program

China’s National People’s Congress has released a draft law for comment that would impose harsher criminal penalties for any trade secret theft from Chinese companies that benefits foreign companies.

China’s current law imposes a maximum sentence of 3 years imprisonment for “serious” instances and 10 years for “particularly serious” instances of trade secret theft. The proposed law would impose harsher sentences for trade secret theft benefiting a foreign entity, resulting in 5 years for “serious” instances and a minimum of 5 years with no maximum for “particularly serious” instances.
Continue Reading China Proposes Harsher Penalties for Trade Secret Theft in Draft Amendment

As autonomous vehicles quickly move farther towards the mainstream, the underlying technology has become increasingly more valuable and has led to an uptick in the theft of autonomous vehicle (“AV”) trade secrets. Indeed, criminal prosecutions of former employees for trade secret theft have been on the rise, especially in the autonomous vehicle segment. Two recent cases underscore the enforcement agencies’ efforts to stem the rise in trade secret theft in the AV segment. Anthony Scott Levandowski was a former executive at both Uber and Google. He departed Google and created a new company named Ottomotto, LLC that was later purchased by Uber. Levandowski pled guilty to theft of trade secrets from Google, admitting that he downloaded approximately 14,000 files from an internal, password-protected Google server to his personal laptop, including a key internal tracking document from Google that detailed the status of its self-driving car program. Levandowki faces a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison, and $250,000 fine plus restitution.
Continue Reading Prosecutions of Trade Secret Theft by Former Employees in Autonomous Vehicle Development

On February 13, 2020 the United States filed a sixteen-count superseding indictment against Huawei Technologies Co., Ltd. and several U.S. based subsidiaries (collectively “Huawei”) charging Huawei with racketeering, money laundering, and violating U.S. sanctions against Iran. The new charges, announced by the United States Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York, the Justice Department’s Criminal and National Security divisions, and the FBI, are the latest of a number of enforcement actions by the U.S. Government against Huawei, and yet another escalation in the U.S. Government’s quest to prevent Huawei from stealing trade secrets and other sensitive intellectual property from American companies.
Continue Reading New Charges Leveled Against Huawei, et al.

On August 26th, 2019, a federal indictment was unsealed, revealing that federal prosecutors have brought 33 criminal charges against a former Google engineer who worked on the company’s self-driving car project from its founding in 2009 through his resignation in January 2016. The indictment alleges that in the months before his departure, the former Google employee downloaded from a secure database multiple engineering, manufacturing and business files related to Google’s custom LiDAR and self-driving car technology. The indictment further alleges that when the employee stole the files he was also working for two of Google’s main competitors in the self-driving space, Tyto LiDAR LLC, and 280 Systems, Inc.
Continue Reading Unsealed Indictment Reveals Criminal Charges Related to Uber/Waymo Dispute

The United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois recently unsealed a December 13, 2017 indictment of Chinese national, Xudong “William” Yao, who was charged with nine counts of trade secret theft. The charges stem from Yao’s theft of more than 3,000 files between September 2014 and February 2015, including trade secret information such as source code and technical specifications, from an unnamed suburban Chicago locomotive manufacturer. The stolen documents generally pertain to the Illinois manufacturer’s train control systems. According to the indictment, Yao began downloading files just two weeks after beginning his employment with the Illinois company and continued to download files while simultaneously negotiating for and accepting a job with a Chinese “provider of automotive telematics service systems.” He began working for the Chinese company several months after being fired from the Illinois company for reasons unrelated to the theft of documents, and Yao’s employer did not discover the theft until sometime later.
Continue Reading Criminal Prosecution of Chinese Trade Secret Misappropriation