A US court reportedly sentenced a Chinese scientist to two years in prison for stealing next-generation battery technology, worth more than $1 billion, from a petroleum company where he worked. Hongjin Tan, a former associate scientist at the petroleum company, was arrested in December 2018 and pleaded guilty in November last year for stealing proprietary information from his employer.
The Justice Department, in a statement, said that Tan was assigned to work with a group responsible for developing next-generation battery technologies for stationary energy store. Tan, who is a Chinese national and permanent resident of the United States, admitted to intentionally copying and downloading the technologies’ research and development materials without authorization from his employer.
“This investigation and prosecution uncovered another instance of China’s persistent attempts to steal American intellectual property,” Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers said in a statement.
“The department of justice will continue to confront this type of illicit behaviour to safeguard American industry and protect American jobs,” he added.
The United States has been critical of China’s trade practices and has blamed for intellectual property theft in the past. US President Donald Trump, during his address at the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in September, had accused China of theft of intellectual property and trade secrets on a “grand scale”.
Tan reportedly used a thumb drive to copy hundreds of files containing proprietary information and turned in his resignation on December 12, 2018. The associate scientist was escorted from the premises but he came back to return the thumb drive saying he had forgotten to do so. Later, the thumb drive was examined and unallocated space was found on the drive, indicating the deletion of five documents.
Investigators searched Tan’s premises and found an external hard drive in which the same five missing files were present. Trent Shores, US Attorney for the Northern District of Oklahoma, said that “unscrupulous” individuals like Tan steal trade secrets to replicate the technology in China.