Yesterday, U.S. District Judge Ruben Castillo sentenced a former Motorola software engineer, Hanjuan Jin, to four years in prison for stealing Motorola trade secrets related to proprietary technology. The sentencing brought to a close a series of events worthy of a John Le Carré spy novel, including a random stop of Jin by U.S. Customs and Border officials at Chicago O’Hare International Airport as she attempted to board a flight to China with a one-way ticket. That stop resulted in the discovery that Jin was carrying, among other things, a variety of electronic storage devices, Motorola documents marked as "confidential and proprietary information," and $31,252 in cash.

Ultimately, Jin was charged with three counts of theft of trade secrets and three counts of economic espionage in violation of the Economic Espionage Act, 18 U.S.C. § 1831 et seq. In a 77-page Memorandum Opinion and Order issued on February 8, 2012 following a bench trial, Judge Castillo convicted Jin of three counts of theft of trade secrets, finding, among other things, that she had engaged in a "concerted effort . . .to obtain information she believed would help her in her future job" with Sun Kaisens, a telecommunications company in China that develops telecommunications technology and products for the Chinese military. Judge Castillo acquitted her, however, of the economic espionage counts, holding "that the evidence failed to establish beyond a reasonable doubt that Jin intended or knew that her conduct would benefit the [Peoples Republic of China]."

In a press release issued yesterday, the Acting U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois stated, "This sentence reinforces the message that federal courts view the theft of trade secrets as a serious crime that warrants significant punishment." He also stated, "We will do everything we can to guard our economic and national security from the theft of American trade secrets, and this case shows that we can work with victim corporations to protect the trade secrets involved."