Xiang Haitao, a former scientist for Monsanto has been charged with stealing copies of the company’s proprietary predictive algorithm also known as the Nutrient Optimizer.
The Nutrient Optimizer is a key component of a farming software platform used to collect, store and visualize agricultural data and improve agricultural productivity. Monsanto and subsidiary The Climate Corporation, which employed Xiang, considered the Nutrient Optimizer a valuable trade secret and an intellectual property.
According to court documents, Xiang transferred the Nutrient Optimizer onto a memory card and copied it onto at least one of his own personal electronic devices. The day after Xiang left his employment at Monsanto in June 2017, he tried to fly to China using a one-way airline ticket. Before he boarded the plane, federal officials searched the scientist’s luggage. Xiang was allowed to fly to China and found employment at the Chinese Academy of Science’s Institute of Soil Science, which is fun by the Chinese Government. Investigators later found copies of the Nutrient Optimizer on one of Xiang’s electronic devices that was searched at the airport.
On Jan. 6, Xiang pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit economic espionage. According to the Justice Department, he “faces a maximum prison sentence of 15 years, a potential fine of $5 million and a term of supervised release not exceeding three years.”
“Despite Xiang’s agreements to protect Monsanto’s intellectual property and repeated training on his obligations to do so, Xiang has now admitted that he stole a trade secret from Monsanto, transferred it to a memory card and attempted to take it to the People’s Republic of China for the benefit of Chinese government,” Assistant Attorney General Matthew G. Olsen of the Justice Department’s National Security Division said. “With his guilty plea, Xiang is now being held accountable for this unlawful conduct.”
Xiang is scheduled to be sentenced on April 7th, 2022.
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