Chinese professor stole secrets for Huawei hard drive, accusing US authorities

  Visitors check out new Huawei smartphones at the IFA home electronics and appliances trade show in Berlin.
Enlarge / Visitors check out new Huawei smartphones at IFA home electronics and appliances trade show Berlin.

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A Chinese computer science professor named Bo Mao faces charges of wire fraud after he was arrested last month by US authorities.

The document that formally accuses Mao of the Brooklyn federal court accuses him of "deceiving a company headquartered in the Northern District of California." Other court filings, including a criminal complaint filed in a Texas federal court last month, help fill in the details. As Reuters first reported, Mao is accused of stealing trade secrets from a startup called CNEX Labs on behalf of Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei.

The prosecution is Trump's latest administration to punish Huawei for alleged industrial espionage. In January, the US government accused Huawei of trying to steal proprietary information about a T-Mobile robot used to test cell phones.

Huawei blasted the US government for what it viewed as a partial pattern of prosecutors. "The US federal prosecutor charges CNEX's charges" even though a civil lawsuit resulted in no harm to Huawei, the company noted in a statement to Reuters.

The Feds say that Mao stole secrets for Huawei

Huawei and CNEX have been fighting in court for years. One of the co-founders, Yiren Huang, started CNEX just days after quitting her job at Huawei. Huawei sued Huang in 201[ads1]7 for alleged trade secret theft. CNEX countered its own accusations. The legal dispute between the two companies ended in a draw this summer, with a jury finding that neither party owed damages.

But Mao is now facing criminal prosecution for allegedly helping Huawei steal trade secrets. Mao allegedly persuaded CNEX to send him a prototype of one of the products, a control panel for solid state drives. Mao promised not to restructure the board or provide details of it to third parties. But the authorities are accusing Mao of doing just that.

Mao is a professor at Xiamen University in China, but he is also listed as a research assistant or postdoc on the website of Hong Jiang, a professor at the University of Texas – Arlington.

In an August complaint filed in a Texas federal court, an FBI agent accuses Mao of working with "Professor 1" at a "Texas University" to obtain unit tests from a "victim company." The complaint notes that "Company 1" gave a $ 100,000 gift to "Texas University" to allow "Professor 1" to study "Forcing Xth Percentile Latency and Throughput SLOs under Consolidated Datacenter Resources."

Hong Jiang lists a research project with the exact title on the website of his university, with Futurewei – a subsidiary of Huawei – listed as a sponsor.

The FBI says it obtained e-mails showing that Mao and Huawei were conferring regularly as Mao attempted to reverse the CNEX unit.

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