Six Chinese nationals have been accused of stealing wireless technology from two American companies on behalf of the Chinese government, the US Department of Justice says.
One of the six defendants, Professor Hao Zhang, was arrested on Saturday when he arrived at Los Angeles International Airport to speak at a conference. The five others are believed to be in China.
Zhang and fellow professor Wei Pang have been accused of stealing information about a technology used in smartphones, tablets and GPS devices from their US employers, Sky Solutions and Avago Technologies.
Both companies are publicly-traded chip suppliers for Apple’s iPhones and manufacture other communications-related products.
According to a 32-count indictment they “stole recipes, source code, specifications, presentations, design layouts and other documents marked as confidential”.
Zang and Pang studied for electrical engineering degrees at the University of Southern California and went on to earn doctorates in 2005, before securing jobs with technology companies in the US.
They had been researching thin-film bulk acoustic resonator (FBAR) technology, which helps to filter communications on mobile phones and other devices and make them more secure.
The technology can be used by in military communications and research was funded by the US defence department.
Tuesday’s announcement marks the 11th time that prosecutors have made accusations of economic espionage since the related law was passed in 1996.
American authorities say foreign governments' theft of US technology is one of the biggest threats to the country's economy and national security, with particular concerns about China.
US State Department spokesman Jeff Rathke told reporters that the US is committed to protecting domestic companies' trade secrets.
“This is an important issue for the United States,” he said.
The charges follow the indictment of five Chinese soldiers in 2014 for cyber-attacks and economic espionage on US companies.