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Former Coca-Cola and Eastman Chemical Employee Convicted of Stealing BPA-free Polymers Trade Secrets

Image: Denissimonov/Adobe Stock judge's gavel
The Chinese-born chemist planned to use the stolen IP to set up her own BPA-free coating company in China.

A chemist was found guilty on April 22, 2021, for her role in a scheme to steal trade secrets related to bisphenol-A-free (BPA-free) polymers from American companies that include Coca-Cola and Eastman Chemical Co. Chinese-born Xiaorong You, PhD, aka Shannon You, plotted to steal the IP worth an estimated $120 million and set up her own BPA-free coating company in China, according to the Department of Justice (DOJ) news release.

Following the 12-day trial, You was convicted of conspiracy to commit economic espionage, conspiracy to steal trade secrets, possession of stolen trade secrets, economic espionage, and wire fraud. According to the DOJ press release, court documents and evidence presented at the trial revealed You stole valuable trade secrets related to formulations for BPA-free coatings for the inside of beverage cans for the purpose of establishing a global can-coating manufacturer in China with Chinese chemical company Weihai Jinhong Group.

You was granted access to the trade secrets while working at the Coca-Cola Co. and Eastman Chemical. The stolen trade secrets belonged to major chemical and coating companies including Akzo-Nobel, BASF, Dow Chemical, PPG, Toyochem, Sherwin Williams, and Eastman Chemical. From December 2012 through Aug. 31, 2017, You was employed as Principal Engineer for Global Research at Coca-Cola, which had agreements with numerous companies, including those listed above, to conduct research and development, testing, analysis, and review of various BPA-free technologies.

Because of You’s extensive education and experience with BPA and BPA-free coating technologies, she was one of a limited number of Coca-Cola employees with access to BPA-free trade secrets, said the DOJ’s report.

From approximately September 2017 through June 2018, You was employed as a packaging application development manager for Eastman Chemical.

Research to find new materials that could protect canned foods began after various activist groups raised questions as to the potential harmful effects of BPA on human health. That made BPA-free formulations valuable as demand rose for those polymers from CPGs.

You was originally indicted in February 2019 for trade secret offenses and wire fraud. A superseding indictment adding economic espionage and conspiracy to commit economic espionage was issued in August 2020, because the theft was “designed to benefit the Chinese Communist Party, the Chinese government,” and other governmental entities.

Sentencing has been set for Nov. 1, 2021.

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