The U.S government charged three Chinese professors and three other Chinese nationals with economic espionage and stealing trade secrets from two companies that develop technology often used by the military, the Department of Justice said on Tuesday.
The three professors from Tianjin University were charged with stealing source code and other proprietary information from Avago Technologies and Skyworks Solutions. Avago has headquarters in San Jose, Calif., and Singapore, and Skyworks is based in Woburn, Mass.
One of the suspects, Hao Zhang, 36, a former Skyworks employee and one of the professors, was arrested on Friday in Los Angeles, where he had just landed on a flight from China, the Justice Department said in a statement.
Prosecutors identified the other five as Wei Pang, 35, a former Avago employee and a professor; Jinping Chen, 41, a professor and a member of the board of directors for ROFS Microsystems; Chong Zhou, 26, a Chinese citizen, Tianjin University graduate student and design engineer at ROFS Microsystems; Huisui Zhang, 34, a Chinese citizen who studied with Pang and Zhang at in California; and Zhao Gang, 39, a Chinese citizen and general manager of ROFS Microsystems.
According to an indictment, Pang and Zhang met while studying electrical engineering at a U.S. university in Southern California and took jobs as engineers at Avago and Skyworks, respectively.
Both companies specialize in FBAR technology, which deals with radio frequencies and has numerous military as well as consumer applications.
Between 2006 and 2007, Pang and Zhang hatched a plan to start manufacturing the technology in China and met with Tianjin University officials, prosecutors said. In 2009, both left the U.S. companies to become professors at Tianjin, where they established with their co-conspirators a company, ROFS Microsystems, with the alleged stolen secrets, according to prosecutors.
If convicted, the defendants could be sentenced to up to 50 years in prison.
Skyworks and Avago did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
(Reporting by Lindsay Dunsmuir; Editing by Susan Heavey)
This article originally appeared on Recode.net.