Chinese national fights protective order in Phillips 66 trade secrets trial

The trial of the 35-year old Chinese National accused of attempting to stealing nearly $1 billion in Phillips 66 battery storage trade secrets at the company’s Bartlesville laboratories has been rescheduled again in Tulsa U.S. District Court.

Judge Gregory K. Frizzell issued a new trial date  of November 12 at 9:30 a.m. following a hearing October 7 on the charges against Hongjin Tan. It is at least the fifth delay in the trial since Tan’s arrest in December 2018 following his resignation in Bartlesville.

Tan was a “materials scientist” for the Disruptive Technologies team at the Phillips 66 Research Center when he resigned in December 2018, indicating he wanted to return to his native China to care for his parents. He was arrested after company authorities reviewed his computer access following the resignation and discovered he had allegedly stolen technology valued at more than $1 billion.

Government prosecutors contend hundreds of files were stolen and would have allowed China to manufacture the Phillips 66 product believed connected to large-scale battery technology.

In the past several months, government prosecutors have sought a trial protective order so some of the technology will not be revealed publicly during Tan’s trial.

But Tan’s defense attorney, Ryan A. Ray says such an order would be “unduly burdensome” and that “protecting alleged trade secrets from public disclosure cannot be done with a one-size-fits-all solution.”

In a recent motion, Ray stated, “It is impossible to discuss the alleged trade secrets without mentioning some of the specifics contained within.” He argued it “would violate Mr. Tan’s rights to a public trial and to confrontation guaranteed by the First and Sixth Amendments.”

Tan had lived in the U.S. since 2006 when he attended Caltech and obtained a master’s and PhD in Materials Science. He previously worked at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Contour Energy Systems and Liox Power before going to work with Phillips 66.

The government contends Tan stole the trade secrets to take with him back to China where he had been offered the position of Energy New Material Engineering Center Director in Xiamen. He had already communicated with the Chinese center which offered him the position but it was contingent on his “guarantee that the information you have already provided and will provide is real and effective.”

Since Tan’s arrest on December 20, 2018, he has been held without bail since he was considered a ‘significant flight risk.’