SAN FRANCISCO • The US authorities charged a former Apple Inc employee with stealing trade secrets on Monday, accusing him of downloading a blueprint related to a self-driving car to a personal laptop before trying to flee the country for China, according to a criminal complaint filed in federal court.
The complaint said the former employee, Xiaolang Zhang, disclosed intentions to work for a Chinese self-driving car start-up and booked a last-minute flight to China after downloading the plan for a circuit board for the self-driving car. Authorities arrested Zhang on July 7 at the San Jose airport.
"We're working with the authorities on this matter and will do everything possible to make sure this individual and any other individuals involved are held accountable for their actions," Apple said.
The criminal complaint said Zhang was hired to develop software and hardware for Apple's autonomous vehicle project, where he designed and tested circuit boards to analyse sensor data.
In April, Zhang took paternity leave following the birth of a child and travelled with his family to China, according to the complaint filed in the US District Court for the Northern District of California.
When Zhang returned, he told his supervisor he planned to resign, move back to China and work for Xiaopeng Motors, an intelligent electric vehicle company headquartered there, with offices in Silicon Valley, the complaint said.
Since leaving Apple, Zhang had been employed by Xiaopeng Motors' wholly-owned US subsidiary XMotors.
Apple security officials discovered that Zhang had run extensive searches of secret databases and had gone to Apple's campus on April 28, when he was supposed to be on paternity leave, the complaint alleged.
While on campus, Zhang allegedly took circuit boards and a computer server from a self-driving car hardware lab.
XMotors said in a statement yesterday that it is "highly concerned" and that "there is no indication that (Zhang) has ever communicated any sensitive information from Apple to XMotors". It added that it terminated Zhang's employment and is currently cooperating with the US authorities to gather more details on the case.