ADVERTISEMENT
2 /3 FREE ARTICLES LEFT THIS MONTH Remaining
Chemistry matters. Join us to get the news you need.

If you have an ACS member number, please enter it here so we can link this account to your membership. (optional)

ACS values your privacy. By submitting your information, you are gaining access to C&EN and subscribing to our weekly newsletter. We use the information you provide to make your reading experience better, and we will never sell your data to third party members.

ENJOY UNLIMITED ACCES TO C&EN

Agriculture

Ex-Monsanto scientist indicted for trade secret theft

Researcher faces years in prison if convicted of stealing crop analysis software

by Marc S. Reisch
November 27, 2019

20191127lnp3-field.jpg
Credit: Shutterstock
Climate Corporation designs software to advise farmers on ways to improve crop productivity.

A federal grand jury in St. Louis has indicted former Monsanto researcher Haitao Xiang, 42, for stealing predictive algorithms with the intention of handing them over to a Chinese government research institute. The platform, known as the Nutrient Optimizer, advises farmers on ways to improve crop growth and productivity.

Xiang, who has a PhD in agricultural engineering from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, quit his job on June 9, 2017, and downloaded the Nutrient Optimizer to a micro SD card, according to the indictment. He then drove from St. Louis to Chicago, where he purchased a one-way ticket to China. Before he could board the flight, federal officials stopped him and seized the algorithms.

If convicted, Xiang, a Chinese citizen, faces up to 15 years in prison and a $5 million fine on each of several espionage charges and up to 10 years for each of several trade secret theft charges.

Xiang’s attorney, Eric Selig, says his client does not understand why the government is going after him. Selig says it is odd that the grand jury indicted Xiang more than two years after his arrest in Chicago and while the US is in a trade war with China.

John C. Demers, US assistant attorney general for national security, says in a statement that the indictment “alleges another example of the Chinese government using Talent Plans to encourage employees to steal intellectual property from their US employers.” Talent Plans are recruitment tools the Chinese government allegedly uses to lure people with useful technology from governments, universities, and businesses.

Xiang worked at Monsanto and its Climate Corp. subsidiary between 2008 and 2017 as a imaging scientist with responsibility for estimating soil properties using satellite imagery. Starting in 2015, the indictment says, Xiang discussed work opportunities with Chinese government recruiters and ultimately accepted a position at the Nanjing Institute of Soil Sciences.

Monsanto, now owned by Bayer, has dealt before with intellectual property theft allegedly directed by Chinese actors. In 2014, a Des Moines, Iowa, federal jury indicted seven Chinese nationals working for Dabeinong Technology Group for stealing hybrid corn seed technology from Monsanto and DuPont test fields.

Other examples of US agricultural property theft involving Chinese scientists include the case of Weiqiang Zhang, who received a 10-year prison sentence in 2018 for conspiring to steal genetically altered rice seed and give it to a delegation of scientists from a Chinese crop research institute. In 2011, Dow AgroSciences researcher Kexue Huang pled guilty to stealing trade secrets from Dow and Cargill and passing them to Chinese researchers.

Advertisement
X

Article:

This article has been sent to the following recipient:

Comments
Dr. Paul C. Li (December 8, 2019 3:15 AM)
Dear Honorable Ed. @c&en.com:
To do a scientific work in such highly respected research lab on topics of extreme sensitivity is naturally an honor that deserves to be admired.
Understanding the nature of subjects the persons involved with on-job assignment has no right to discuss any thing that is group confidential unless permitted by the patent department in upper management, the researchers should keep his or her mouth shut. Decline any fatal attraction no matter how much money and fame on the way to be laid for ones’ due attention.
Please refer to the 11th. Commandment not instituted in the Bible but in your heart and mind.
The food we eat, the drinks we take and the air we breathe are all clean and healthy both for me and the attractors so is my behavior like what I say and do every day, and even thought in my mind are clean and acceptable to the one I deal with.

Leave A Comment

*Required to comment