Cancer Researcher Pleads Guilty to Conspiracy to Steal Trade Secrets

In an effort to combat a recent string of suspected trade secret divulgence from U.S. pharmaceutical companies to Chinese competitors, the U.S. Department of Justice filed charges against Yu Xue for conspiracy to steal trade secrets. On Friday, Xue pled guilty to this offense which is punishable by up to 10 years in prison plus a $250,000 fine and carries the possibility of forced restitution for the value of the trade secrets, or around $2 Billion.

According to prosecutors, Xue, a top cancer research analyst for GlaxoSmithKline and one of the top protein biochemists in the world, attempted to set up a rival company in China and send the trade secrets to the competitor through a series of emails and external downloads on thumb drives. While Xue explained that she did not believe the information to be a trade secret, the burden on the prosecutors amounted to whether they could prove Xue was aware that the information she had shared was confidential.

Emails between Xue and her co-conspirators indicated their awareness of the suspected wrongdoing and displayed concern for their future if they were caught. The accusations alone abruptly ended Xue’s career with GSK. Xue was fired from her position with the company a short time after charges were filed against her in 2016.

After suffering a string of missteps in trade secret-related cases in recent years, this guilty plea looks to be moving the Justice Department back on track. The effort to combat against trade secret misappropriation by independent actors and foreign governments (or a combination of the two) is essential to the advancement of intellectual property in the United States.