A lucrative new car market, a former General Motors employee, and a dumpster with shredded documents. According to a federal court indictment (pdf) released on Thursday, these may be a recipe for hybrid car espionage. A former GM employee and her husband--Shanshan Du and Yu Qin--stand accused of shuttling secrets out of the American automobile company and attempting to provide design information to a Chinese competitor.
Earth2Techreports that as hybrids become a bigger part of the automotive landscape, they're also the cause of more legal fights, including recent legal battles over hybrid technology patents involving
Ford and Toyota.
According to Australia-based IP law firm Griffith Hack, filings for patents covering hybrid technology have been “increasing roughly exponentially” across much of the industry in the last few years, although the Clean Energy Patent Growth Index from intellectual property law firm Heslin Rothenberg Farley & Mesiti suggests a more gradual climb.[Earth2Tech]
General Motors values the stolen secrets at over $40 million and suspects that Du started loading documents onto a hard drive after the company offered her a severance package in January 2005.
[According to the indictment,] Ms. Du accepted a severance package from G.M. and five days later copied thousands of pages of secret documentation onto a hard drive that belonged to a company that she and her husband had set up, called Millennium Technology International. Ms. Du then attempted to provide the hybrid technology to Chery Automobile, a Chinese automaker.[New York Times]
In 2006, after federal grand jury subpoenas for documents related to the couple's company, FBI agents saw the pair dumping trash in a supermarket dumpster and later recovered shredded documents. Though the Bureau originally pushed to charge the couple with obstruction of justice, the AP reports, it decided instead to investigate further. The result was charges including conspiracy, unauthorized possession of trade secrets, and wire fraud; Du and Qin entered not-guilty pleas on Thursday.
Du's attorney, Robert Morgan, declined to comment. Qin's attorney, Frank Eaman, said he was ''completely surprised'' by the indictment. ''This investigation has been going on so long I figured if they had a basis they would have charged them a long time ago,'' Eaman said.[AP]
The Chinese competitor, Chery Automobile, says this is the first they've heard of the stolen documents.
"We had no idea about this issue until we read about in the media," Jin Yibo, spokesman for Chery, told Reuters by telephone."It seems strange to us and we don't understand why Chery's name is being linked to this matter."[Reuters]
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Image: flickr /LancerE