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  • Writer's pictureSafer Highways

Hardware Engineer Pleads Guilty to Stealing Apple Car Trade Secrets

Xiaolang Zhang faces up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

Xiaolang Zhang, a former Apple hardware engineer, has pleaded guilty to stealing trade secrets relating to the company's autonomous car project.

The Apple Car may be all but dead as a project, but that hasn't stopped the US government pushing ahead with legal action against the engineer. As CNBC reports, Zhang was arrested by federal agents in July 2018 as he attempted to leave the US for China from San Jose airport.

He had worked for Apple since 2015 and spent some of his time as a hardware engineer on the Apple Car team. While there, he is accused of downloading a 25-page document containing engineering schematics for an autonomous vehicle circuit board, as well as stealing reference manuals, Apple prototypes/prototype requirements contained in PDF documents, and a couple of pieces of hardware.

Zhang initially raised Apple's suspicion when he requested paternity leave and traveled to China. On returning to work, he resigned stating the reason was to return to China to care for his mother. Zhang also revealed he would have a new job working for Chinese electric vehicle company Xmotors. A subsequent investigation by Apple not only confirmed he stole documents, but revealed CCTV footage of him taking circuit boards and a Linux server from an Apple lab.

The guilty plea to a felony charge of theft of trade secrets was made yesterday by Zhang in person at a federal court in San Jose. The plea agreement with the government is under seal, but Zhang now faces up to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000 for the theft. He will discover his fate when sentencing is given in November.

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