The feds on Monday criminally charged a former Apple employee with theft of trade secrets, claiming the ex-staffer attempted to download a blueprint for a self-driving car to a personal laptop, before trying to flee the country and join a new startup in China.
Xiaolang Zhang, who started with Apple in late 2015 to work on the tech giant’s secret autonomous car program, told his supervisor this April that he intended to resign from the company so he could work for a new Chinese-backed self-driving car startup called XMotors.
Apple staff asked him to turn over all of his company-owned devices, the complaint alleges, and then “Zhang was also reminded about Apple’s intellectual property policy,” which Zhang allegedly acknowledged that he understood.
Before then, however, the feds allege he downloaded a 25-page plan for a circuit board inside the self-driving car. On July 7, the authorities allege, Zhang purchased a last-minute round-trip ticket to China, but he was arrested before boarding the plane.
Trade secrets cases in Silicon Valley have become commonplace in recent years, as the autonomous driving industry has taken off. Uber and Google’s self-driving car unit, Waymo, settled a high-profile dispute earlier this year, after a former engineer of the tech giant allegedly stole reams of autonomous driving data. Electric car startup Faraday Future sued its former chief financial officer over similar claims.
Apple didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. Neither did Zhang’s reported appointed lawyer, Tamara Crepet. We’ll update the post if we hear back.