Chinese professor convicted of stealing trade secrets from US firms

Zhang Hao worked with Tianjin University to set up company violating intellectual property rights

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Tianjin University allegedly supported Zhang in IP theft

Tianjin University allegedly supported Zhang in IP theft (Wikimedia Commons photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — The U.S. Department of Justice announced the conviction of Zhang Hao (張浩), who stole trade secrets from two U.S. tech companies and enabled China's Tianjin University (TJU) and his own firm to unfairly compete in the multi-billion-dollar market for radio frequency filters on electronic devices.

According to the department, the two U.S. companies that Zhang stole trade secrets from are California-based Avago and Massachusetts-based Skyworks. The former designs and supplies a broad range of analog, digital, and mixed-signal components with a focus on semiconductor design and processing, while the latter is specialized in high-performance analog semiconductors.

Zhang targeted the well-developed technologies owned by these two companies, specifically the Film Bulk Acoustic Resonators (FBAR), which are applied to eliminate interference and improve other aspects of device performance.

Back in 2006, Zhang launched a business in China while working for Avago; his accomplice, Pang Wei (龐慰), worked for Skyworks. The two later became professors at TJU and cooperated with the school to form another company, Novana, in 2009, using key information they stole from the U.S. entities.

Zhang even patented the acquired trade secrets and developed his new FBAR business in a lab he founded at TJU.

On May 16, 2015, Zhang was arrested at the airport in Los Angeles during a trip he was making to Pheonix, Arizona, for the international microwave symposium.

"Economic espionage is a pervasive threat throughout the U.S., particularly to the San Francisco Bay Area and Silicon Valley, which is the center of innovation and technology," said FBI Special Agent in Charge John F. Bennett. "This case exemplifies how easily a few motivated employees can conspire to misappropriate intellectual property for the benefit of China."

Zhang was released on a $500,000 secured bond, and his sentencing hearing is scheduled for Aug. 31, 2020. He will face up to 15 years in prison for economic espionage and 10 years for theft of trade secrets.