The United States has charged a former Apple engineer for stealing the company’s technology on autonomous systems, including self-driving cars, and then fleeing to China.
According to an April indictment unsealed on Tuesday, Apple hired 35-year-old California resident Weibao Wang in 2016. The following year, Wang accepted a US-based job with a Chinese company working to develop self-driving cars, but waited about four months before informing Apple of his new job.
After his last day at the company, Apple discovered Wang had accessed swathes of proprietary data in the days before his departure, the US Justice Department said.
US Federal agents searched Wang’s home in June 2018 and found “large quantities” of data from Apple, the department added. Shortly after the search, Wang boarded a plane to China.
Apple’s automotive efforts, known as Project Titan, have proceeded unevenly since 2014, when the company started to design a vehicle from scratch.
A December report said Apple had postponed the car’s planned launch to 2026. Reports filed with the state of California show Apple is testing vehicles on the state’s roads.
Apple declined to comment on the case.
Wang’s indictment was part of five cases centred on allegations concerning the theft of trade secrets and other technology. The cases were the first announced by a US “strike force” formed in February in part to protect sensitive technologies.
In a second case related to China, US prosecutors announced charges against another California resident Liming Li. The 64-year-old allegedly stole trade secrets from his California-based employers to build his own competing business in China.
In addition, prosecutors in New York announced charges against Xiangjiang Qiao, also known as Joe Hansen, 39, for allegedly using a Chinese company that is the target of American sanctions to provide materials used in the production of weapons of mass destruction to Iran.
Qiao and Wang remain at large in China, while Li was arrested, US officials said.
- Reuters, with additional editing by Vishakha Saxena