LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com) — Two Chinese professors who attended the University of Southern California are among six Chinese nationals accused by federal prosecutors of stealing trade secrets from two U.S. tech companies.
A 32-count indictment (PDF) announced by the U.S. Department of Justice alleges professors Hao Zhang and Wei Pang studied electrical engineering at USC in the early 2000s and later conspired to “obtain U.S. trade secrets for the benefit of universities and companies controlled by the [Chinese] government.”
Professor Hao Zhang was arrested Saturday upon landing at the Los Angeles International Airport on a flight from China, according to U.S. Department of Justice officials. Another professor, Wei Pang, and four other alleged co-conspirators are believed to be in China, prosecutors said.
According to the indictment, Pang and Zhang conducted research and development on thin-film bulk acoustic resonator (FBAR) technology – a technology primarily used in cellphones, tablets and other mobile devices – under funding from U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).
FBAR technology also has applications for a variety of military and defense communications technologies, prosecutors said.
The indictment alleges that starting in 2006 and 2007, Pang, Zhang and other co-conspirators prepared a business plan and began soliciting Chinese universities and others to start manufacturing FBAR technology in China, including establishing relationships with officials from Tianjin University, one of the oldest universities in China.
Prosecutors say in 2008, Tianjin University officials flew to San Jose to meet with Pang, Zhang and other co-conspirators, where they agreed to support the defendants in establishing an FBAR fabrication facility in China.
Pang and Zhang continued to work for Avago Technologies (Avago) in Colorado and Skyworks Solutions Inc. (Skyworks) in Massachusetts allegedly in close coordination with Tianjin University, according to the indictment.
In mid-2009, both Pang and Zhang simultaneously resigned from the U.S. companies and accepted positions as full professors at Tianjin University, prosecutors said. They along with other co-defendants then later formed a joint venture with Tianjin University under the company name ROFS Microsystem intending to mass produce FBARs, the indictment alleges.
According to prosecutors, Pang, Zhang and other alleged co-conspirators “stole recipes, source code, specifications, presentations, design layouts and other documents marked as confidential and proprietary” from their former companies and shared the information with one another and with individuals working for Tianjin University.
The co-defendants face up to 15 years in prison and $500,000 in fines for charges of conspiracy and economic espionage.
Zhang made a court appearance Monday in Los Angeles and was ordered to be transported to San Jose for further proceedings, prosecutors said.