Prison For Trade Secret Theft? For This Chemist, Yes
In a case that is unusual for the penalty imposed, a former research chemist with global pharmaceutical giant sanofi-aventis – which develops, manufactures, and markets health care products including prescription drugs Allegra, Plavix, Copaxone, and Ambien – has been sentenced to 18 months in prison for stealing sanofi’s trade secrets and making them available for sale through Abby Pharmatech Inc., the U.S. subsidiary of a Chinese chemicals company.
Yuan Li, of Somerset, New Jersey, is a Chinese national who previously pleaded guilty to an information charging her with one count of theft of trade secrets. Li entered her guilty plea before U.S. District Judge Joel A. Pisano, who also imposed the sentence in Trenton federal court.
As prosecutors explain, Li worked as a research scientist at sanofi’s Bridgewater, New Jersey, headquarters from October 2006 through June 2011, where she directly assisted in the development of a number of compounds that sanofi viewed as potential building blocks for future drugs. These compounds were sanofi’s trade secrets and had not been disclosed outside sanofi in any manner, including by means of a patent application.
While employed at sanofi, Li was also a 50 percent partner in Abby, which is engaged in the sale and distribution of pharmaceuticals.
Li admitted that between January 2010 and June 2011, she accessed an internal sanofi database and downloaded information related to a number of sanofi compounds, including their chemical structures, onto her sanofi-issued laptop computer. She also admitted she then transferred the information to her personal home computer by sending it to her personal e-mail address or via a USB thumb drive.
Li acknowledged that she made the stolen compounds available for sale on Abby’s website.
In addition to the prison term, Judge Pisano sentenced Li to serve two years of supervised release and ordered her to pay $131,000 in restitution.