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Motorola's secrets shipped to China - again?

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Motorola has accused its own engineers of sending confidential documents to the founder of Huawei, and claims that the receiving company was well aware that the information was stolen.

The case, filed in Chicago, is against the Lemko Corp and originally accused five former Motorola workers of taking their secrets with them when they moved to Lemko – a company that has a reselling deal with Huawei. But the case has now been amended to accuse named engineers of sending confidential documents direct to Huawei.

Motorola is pretty explicit: "Huawei and its officers knew they were receiving stolen Motorola proprietary trade secrets and confidential information without Motorola’s authorization and consent," according to Reuters' reporting of the complaint. A sent mail was apparently recovered from the engineer's computer, with attached documents bearing the "confidential" stamp.

It's not the first time Motorola and Lemko have been at odds – back in 2008 a Motorola employee (who also seems to have been working for Lemko at the time) was picked up boarding a plane at O'Hare airport, on a one-way trip to China packing more than 1,000 Motorola documents and something in the region of $30,000 in cash too.

But it's not all one way: Lemko has accused ex-staff of taking secrets to Motorola too. Given the physical proximity of the two companies it's not surprising that engineers switch between them, but the flow does, in general, seem to be in Lemko's direction.

Reuters managed to get hold of Huawei, who pointed out that its only relationship with Lemko is that of a reseller, and that the allegations are baseless. Lemko, unsurprisingly, denies everything.

In the incestuous world of radio technologies it's hard to keep secrets from walking out of the door in the heads of engineers, and asking employees to forget all they've experienced is fanciful no matter how many confidentiality agreements they sign. But sending a competitor copies of confidential documents is another matter, and one that should be easier to prove if it's true.

Last time Huawei was accused of stealing trade secrets, by Cisco, the company dropped the routers in question and Cisco dropped the case; both sides claimed victory. But cases like this damage the image of China as a whole, bolstering the stereotypical image that China has been working hard to throw off - that of the industrious duplicator of other people's work. ®

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