Former Apple car engineer pleads guilty in trade secret theft case

Apple Car Concept
(Image credit: Vanarama)

Xiaolang Zhang, the ex-Apple employee who worked as an engineer on the company's heavily-guarded car project, has pleaded guilty to trade secret theft. Zhang was arrested back in July 2018 at San Jose airport while trying to fly to China.

Zhang is facing up to a decade in prison, with a $250,000 fine. The theft specifically has to do with a 25-page document that contains schematics of a circuit board for Apple's fabled autonomous vehicle, reports CNBC.

Big trouble

Zhang had been an Apple employee since 2015. He was first suspected of being in breach of trust when he took paternity leave and traveled to China. Upon return, he resigned from Apple to move back to China, stating he needed to take care of his mother.

He planned to go work for Xpeng Motors, a Chinese EV maker. Apple found CCTV footage of Zhang procuring hardware — circuit boards and a Linux server — from the labs and records of him downloading sensitive documents from the company's internal database.

Xpeng has reportedly released a statement on the Chinese social media Sina Weibo stating that it was not involved in the case.

The Apple car rumors have been in plenty, with the vehicle becoming an urban legend with very little actual information out there. However, occurrences like these have let us get some insight into the company's automotive plans, which may see the light of the day in the not-so-distant future.

Another accused yet to plead guilty

Zhang wasn't the only one accused of stealing trade secrets. In fact, another ex-Apple engineer faces similar accusations and hasn't pleaded guilty yet.

Jizhong Chen was also accused of the same in 2019. Chen was also China-bound and has been accused of theft of intellectual property surrounding Apple's electric car. Chen also shares his lawyer with Zhang.

No trial dates have been set, but we can expect movement on this case soon. 

Palash Volvoikar

Palash has been a technology and entertainment journalist since 2013. Starting with Android news and features, he has also worked as the news head for Wiki of Thrones, and a freelance writer for Windows Central, Observer, MakeUseOf, MySmartPrice, ThinkComputers, and others. He also worked as a writer and journalist for Android Authority, covering computing, before returning to freelancing all over town.