Former Apple engineer pleads not guilty in trade secrets theft case

The ex-employee has been accused of stealing crucial blueprints relating to Apple's self-driving car project.

A former Apple engineer has pleaded not guilty after being accused of stealing Apple's autonomous vehicle research.

Last week, US prosecutors filed an indictment which accused Xiaolang Zhang of downloading and copying intellectual property relating to the project.

According to Reuters, Zhang has pleaded not guilty to the charge of trade secret theft.

In a hearing in San Jose, the former hardware engineer denied stealing a 25-page blueprint for a circuit board which is a crucial element of Apple's self-driving research and development.

The stolen information contained the electrical schematics for the board, which the indictment claims "serves as the basis for [an] instant criminal charge."

See also: Apple employee accused of stealing self-driving car secrets

Zhang was hired in 2015 to work on the autonomous vehicle project. The engineer had access to a broad range of confidential databases due to his role.

After becoming a father, the engineer took leave and traveled to China to visit family. On his return, Zhang handed in his notice, stating that he and his family intended to relocate to the country.

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During an interview with his supervisor, Zhang mentioned that he intended to work for Chinese self-driving startup XMotors. The interview aroused suspicion and led to an investigation which uncovered high network usage and bulk downloads through the engineer's account.

It was then found that roughly 40GB of data had been taken without Apple's consent, alongside the physical removal of a circuit board and server from Apple's autonomous vehicle labs.

XMotors has denied receiving any confidential or sensitive information from Zhang and has also terminated his intended position.

At the time, Zhang admitted to taking the hardware and data due to his own interests. However, it will be interesting to see whether the "not guilty" plea of stealing trade secrets due to the blueprint file will hold weight.

Zhang was arrested at San Jose airport, California, on 7 July.

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