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Engineer admits to stealing trade secrets from Apple

by Ronan Glon

Mr. Zhang downloaded confidential files with autonomous car trade secrets on behalf of a Chinese start-up.

American prosecutors have accused a former Apple engineer named Xiaolang Zhang of stealing intellectual property and trade secrets pertaining to autonomous cars on behalf of a Chinese start-up. Law enforcement officials arrested him at the San Jose airport as he prepared to board a plane for Beijing.

Bloomberg reports Zhang worked as a hardware engineer in Apple's secretive autonomous car program. He consequently had access to top-secret files. He resigned earlier this year to move back to China and work for a start-up named Xiaopeng Motors. The California-based firm became suspicious after noticing his network activities and visits to his office increased.

The report adds Zhang later admitted to downloading an unspecified number of files from Apple's servers to his wife's laptop. He is charged with downloading engineering blueprints, technical manuals, and reports.

There's no word on when he will face trial yet. He faces up to 10 years in jail and a $250,000 fine, according to The Verge.

"Apple takes confidentiality and the protection of our intellectual property very seriously. We're working with authorities on this matter and will do everything possible to make sure this individual and any other individuals involved are held accountable for their actions," a company spokesperson told Bloomberg.

Former Google engineer Anthony Levandowski found himself in a similar position in 2017. Prosecutors accused him of stealing valuable intellectual property before resigning from his position at Google's self-driving car division. He quickly founded a company named Otto that joined Uber's portfolio of brands just a few months later. Google argued Uber knew about the theft and orchestrated the snafu. Uber settled the long court battle for $245 million in February of 2018.