Reports that a former Apple employee pleaded guilty to charges of stealing trade secrets prior to joining Chinese automotive firm XPeng sparked widespread discussion on August 23. The electric vehicle maker denied its connection with the case on the same day.
According to CNBC‘s report on August 22, Zhang Xiaolang, an Apple engineer before joining XPeng, pleaded guilty to a federal court in San Jose because he was accused of stealing trade secrets from the automotive department of Apple. Zhang faces as long as 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine after pleading guilty. Sentencing is scheduled for November.
A statement issued by XPeng today said, “It has been more than four years into the case, and we are not aware of the specifics of the case and have not been involved in the follow-up investigation of the case by the US judiciary. We also have no relevant dispute with Apple and have no connection with the case. We strictly abide by relevant laws and attaches great importance to intellectual property protection.”
Zhang Xiaolang joined Apple in December 2015, and his team was mainly responsible for designing and testing circuit boards to analyze sensor data. In April 2018, Zhang returned to China for paternity leave. After the holiday, he returned to California and offered to leave the job because he had to take care of his sick mother, and he told his boss that he would join XPeng in China.
After Zhang handed in the company’s two iPhones and a laptop, Apple’s technical security team checked device records and found that Zhang’s network activity data increased sharply during his work, and he searched and downloaded some confidential data. In addition, Zhang was photographed trying to dismantle the hardware and take it away. According to the prosecution documents submitted by Apple, these units of hardware were test circuit boards and Linux servers.
On July 7, 2018, Zhang was finally arrested by the FBI during a security check at the San Jose Airport for allegedly stealing Apple secrets. At that time, he had officially joined XPeng. It took more than four years from arrest to confession.
Regarding the matter, XPeng issued a statement after Zhang’s arrest in 2018, saying that it attached great importance to the protection of intellectual property rights and always regards compliance as the basic criterion for all employees. Zhang signed an intellectual property compliance document on the day he joined XPeng. There is no record that he reported any sensitive and illegal situations to the company, added XPeng.