A former Apple engineer and the executive at an electric vehicle startup owned by the Chinese tech giant Baidu has been charged with stealing Apple’s self-driving technology, as reported earlier by CNBC. On Tuesday, the US Department of Justice indicted and charged Weibao Wang with the “theft and attempted theft” of Apple’s autonomous driving tech.
As noted by the indictment, Wang started working at Apple as a software engineer in 2016, where he signed a confidentiality agreement and worked on the company’s secretive autonomous driving project. Wang resigned from his role in 2018, but unbeknownst to Apple, Wang accepted employment at “the U.S.-based subsidiary of another company that was headquartered in the People’s Republic of China and was working to develop self-driving cars” four months before his departure.
After Wang left Apple, the company found that Wang accessed the company’s confidential databases days before his departure and had law enforcement conduct a search of his home. While Wang complied with the search warrant, he boarded a flight to China that night. Law enforcement later discovered that “Wang accessed Apple’s proprietary and confidential information” about Apple’s autonomous systems, including its source code, architectural design, motion planner, and more.
This isn’t the first time that Apple has caught employees stealing trade secrets related to its car project
Although the indictment doesn’t say where Wang accepted employment during his time at Apple, a Reuters article posted last year names Wang as the head of intelligent driving at Jidu, an EV subsidiary owned by Baidu, and notes that he previously worked on Apple’s EV project. Company profiles spotted by CNBC also suggest Wang is an executive at Jidu.
Wang faces up to 10 years behind bars. He must also pay $250,000 or “twice the gross gain or loss resulting from the scheme” for each count of theft or attempted theft of trade secrets.
“Innovation is alive and well in Silicon Valley — indeed, throughout the Northern District of California,” US Attorney Ismail J. Ramsey says in a statement. “Unfortunately, there will always be some who cheat the system by stealing and profiting from the fruits of others’ labor. The Wang prosecution is but one example.”
This isn’t the first time that Apple has caught employees stealing trade secrets related to its car project. In 2018 and 2019, two employees were charged with stealing confidential details from Apple’s self-driving project, while one of the engineers, Xiaolang Zhang, was accused of feeding them to the Chinese EV startup Xiaopeng Motors. Zhang fessed up to stealing Apple’s trade secrets last year.
Correction May 18th, 8:52AM ET: A previous version of the headline incorrectly stated that the person charged is an executive at Baidu, when they are in fact an executive at an EV company backed by Baidu. We regret the error.