Briefing: US augmented reality unicorn accuses Chinese ex-employee of tech theft
Jun 18, 2019
What happened: Florida-based augmented reality (AR) startup Magic Leap has sued a former engineer and Chinese national, claiming that he stole technology to develop his own AR headset. Xu Chi left Magic Leap in 2016 and founded his own company in Beijing, known as Nreal. Xu’s firm revealed an AR headset at a tradeshow in January, less than six months after Magic Leap’s device came to market. The Alibaba- and Google-backed company accused Xu of “neglecting his work duties,” as he was stealing proprietary information and plotting to start his own firm. Magic Leap points to the fact that Xu’s company released a headset in less than two years, saying its own product was deployed after seven years of development and $2 billion of investment.
Why it’s important: Similar cases of trade secret theft have been pursued by the US Justice Department, adding to souring relations between the US and China. In April, the Justice Department indicted two Chinese nationals over alleged trade secret theft from General Electric. Washington claims that such incidents show China’s tech rise has been driven by nefarious means. Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei has been also been accused of intellectual property theft. The company was investigated in January over allegations that they stole robotics technology. In May, it was revealed that a US chip startup sued the Shenzhen-based telecoms operator over theft of trade secrets.