A Chinese professor was found guilty by a judge of trade-secret theft and an even more serious and rarer charge of economic espionage, marking the latest conviction in the Trump administration’s pursuit of Chinese scientists and engineers.
At an unusual in-person courtroom hearing Friday in San Jose, Calif., during the coronavirus pandemic, U.S. District Judge Edward Davila, announced the verdict against Hao Zhang.
Arrested in 2015 when he flew to Los Angeles for a conference, Zhang was accused of conspiring with a colleague from the University of Southern California to steal and sell American secrets to the Chinese government and military through a shell company in the Cayman Islands.
Zhang was charged during an aggressive U.S. crackdown on Chinese theft of intellectual property that began under former President Barack Obama has continued under the Trump administration, which has applied heavy scrutiny to Chinese scientists doing research in the U.S. He faces up to 15 years in prison for economic espionage and 10 years for theft of trade secrets, according to a court filing.
Zhang’s lawyers argued that his work at one of China’s most prestigious technical universities to develop radio-filtering technology used in mobile phones was about advancing scientific knowledge — and not for the benefit of the Chinese state.
Prosecutors said the secrets Zhang stole came from a former employer, Sky-works Solutions Inc., based in Woburn, Mass., and San Jose-based Avago Technologies Ltd., which acquired Broadcom Inc. in 2015. The technology at issue filters out unwanted signals in mobile phones and other devices, which has become more difficult as wireless products have become ubiquitous.
Zhang was accused of using stolen information to refine radio-filter technology, apply for patents in the U.S. and China, and sell it through a company incorporated in the Cayman Islands, prosecutors said.
Zhang’s lawyer had no immediate comment on the verdict. Sentencing is set for Aug. 31.