Ex-Motorola engineer sentenced for trade secrets theft

A former Motorola Inc. software engineer was sentenced to a four-year federal prison term recently. She was convicted of swiping confidential Motorola information for a telecommunications firm linked to the Chinese government. The court hoped the sentence would be a deterrent for trade secret thieves in California and throughout the country.

The court threw out charges that the naturalized U.S. citizen was guilty of spying for the Chinese government. Intercepted trade secrets the Motorola worker tried to sneak on board an outbound international flight in 2007 were destined for Sun Kaisens, a Chinese military product manufacturer.

The engineer’s defense attorney hoped the client would receive probation. The lawyer tried to convince the court that the employee copied the cellphone data for a good reason. The worker had just come off a lengthy medical leave and was “refreshing” her company knowledge.

Prosecutors said the engineer was already employed by Sun Kaisens when she began accumulating sensitive Motorola documents and downloading trade secrets onto a laptop and external data-saving electronic devices. A security search of the worker before a Feb. 2007 flight to China uncovered the data and more than $30,000 in cash.

The defendant spent her time between the conviction and the sentencing under home arrest.

The sentencing judge called the employee’s technology theft “very purposeful.” The defense attorney asserted the stolen cellphone data was not very valuable. The information apparently was so technologically outdated that it was probably useless to Sun Kaisens and the Chinese military.

Prosecutors were pleased with the trial results. Government attorneys said the conviction and stiff sentence should encourage U.S. businesses to report intellectual property thefts. Some companies hesitate to file charges in theft cases for fear of exposing company trade secrets in court.

Source: USA Today, “Motorola trade secrets thief gets 4-year term,” Jason Keyser, Aug. 29, 2012