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Another Apple Employee-Enroute to China – Arrested – Trade Secrets Theft

On January 22nd the arrest of another Apple employee—hired to work on their self-driving program—was made by the FBI the same day he planned to board a flight to China for stealing Apple trade secrets.

You can’t help but shake your head over the audacity of this theft especially in view of the other Apple employee arrested only seven months earlier (July) before his plan to get on a flight back to China after his alleged theft.

In an effort to better understand and bring more context to what led to this recent (January) arrest, I have reviewed the criminal complaint filed by the FBI against the accused (JIZHONG CHEN).


It’s instructive to consider the steps Apple took to protect their IP, as well as their follow-up investigation.

*Quoted and italicized information is extracted from the criminal complaint.


Chen was hired in June 2018… “…Chen was a core employee on the electrical engineering team and had full access to a subset of the Databases related to his job function on the Project.”


 “…Apple’s Databases are only accessible with Apple employee credentials and password.”

“…Apple uses an internal software tool to manage requests for project disclosure and maintains a record of all disclosures.”

“…Apple limits access to the building where the Project is developed…limited by badge access.”

“…Before starting at Apple, employees must sign an Intellectual Property Agreement (“IPA”)…

Chen signed an IPA in 2018.

“…even within Apple’s operations, the Project development in the Building is not listed”

“Employees disclosed on the Project must also attend an in-person secrecy training for the Project…

Chen attended the secrecy training on June 13, 2018

“…The [Secrecy] training also covered Apple’s policy prohibiting employees from storing Apple’s intellectual property on devices over which they [Apple] do not have personal control.”


Well, it seems, no time at all.

It appears he felt comfortable enough to start stealing Apple’s self-driving trade secrets the same month he was hired.

According to the criminal complaint (as mentioned above) he attended “Secrecy Training on June 13th, and on June 20th, a photograph of “…an assembly drawing of a wire harness for an autonomous vehicle” was stored on his iPhone.


Last month (January) another Apple employee observed CHEN taking wide angled photographs within the Apple workspace and reported it.


 “…Chen admitted to taking photographs in Apple’s workspace.”

“…Chen conducted a backup of his entire work computer onto a personally-owned hard-drive”

“…Chen’s personally owned computer had over two thousand files containing confidential and proprietary Apple material, including manuals, schematics, and diagrams.”

“…hundreds of files on Chen’s personally-owned computer were photographs of computer screens.”

“…taking a photograph of the computer screen with Apple’s information would circumvent Apple’s internal monitoring of activity on its network.”

“…When Apple’s investigation team went through Chen’s personally-owned phone, with Chen present, they discovered that it had about 100 photographs taken within the interior of Apple’s building. Apple deleted these photographs with Chen’s permission. Chen subsequently kept his personally-owned cellphone.”


What do you think about the steps Apple took to protect their IP and their subsequent investigation?

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Ron Alvarez is an IP investigations and protection consultant and writer in New York City. He is a former NYPD lieutenant where he investigated robbery, narcotics, internal affairs, and fine art theft cases. Ron has since coordinated the private investigation of international fraud and money laundering cases, as well as IP-related investigations and research involving the four pillars of IP: copyright, patents, trademarks, and trade secrets. Ron is a graduate of the FBI National Academy and earned a B.A. in Government and Public Administration from John Jay College of Criminal Justice in Manhattan. He has written a number of articles for various investigative publications, as well as published "The World of Intellectual Property (IP) Protection and Investigations" in November 2021.

1 comment on “Another Apple Employee-Enroute to China – Arrested – Trade Secrets Theft

  1. Pingback: Have You Noticed How Trade Secrets Thieves Are Circumventing Their Employer’s Computer Monitoring System…Lately? – IP PI BLOG

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