Chinese Professor Jailed for Stealing US Trade Secrets

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A Chinese university professor has been handed an 18-month jail sentence for stealing IP from two US companies several years ago.

Hao Zhang was charged in 2015 along with five other Chinese nationals with economic espionage and theft of trade secrets. While the five remain at large, most likely in China, Zhang made the mistake of re-entering the US and was promptly arrested.

He is said to have met one of the co-conspirators, Wei Pang, while the two were studying doctorates in electrical engineering at a California university.

They researched DARPA-funded R&D projects into thin-film bulk acoustic resonator (FBAR) technology, which is said to have multiple military and defense applications, and then went on to work on FBAR projects at Avago Technologies and Skyworks Solutions. 

Then in around 2006-7, the two, along with four other conspirators, elicited interest in their work from state-backed Tianjin University and other organizations.

The university agreed to support their plan and in 2009 they resigned from their US roles and accepted full time positions as professors at Tianjin.

Later they formed a joint venture with the university under the name ROFS Microsystems to mass produce FBAR, according to the Department of Justice.

They were accused of stealing “recipes, source code, specifications, presentations, design layouts” and other confidential documents from Skyworks and Avago in order to build a state-of-the-art production facility and win commercial and military contracts.

The case will further bolster US suspicions that Chinese students in the country are a national security threat, whether they have been persuaded by Beijing to steal on behalf of the Communist Party, or are doing so for their own commercial benefit.

The seven-year prosecution of Zhang ended this week with the professor sentenced to a minimum security prison in California and ordered to pay $477,000 to the companies he stole from.

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