FBI Warns U.S. Universities About Chinese Theft of Intellectual Property

The move comes after the discovery of several cases of foreign interference relating to research performed at American universities.

FBI Warns U.S. Universities About Chinese Theft of Intellectual Property

Agency officials say they are encouraging institutions of higher education to take steps to protect intellectual property but not monitor researchers by nationality.

The FBI has been working to stop the theft of technology and trade secrets by Chinese researchers who are working at U.S. institutions of higher education.

FBI outreach efforts to universities include lecturing at seminars, briefing campus administrators and providing information on intellectual property theft, reports the Washington Post.

The campaign comes after the discovery of several cases of intellectual property theft, breaches in scientific integrity, cyberattacks, the participation of academic researchers in foreign talent recruitment programs and other forms of foreign interference relating to research performed at U.S. universities.

In 2013, a Medical College of Wisconsin employee illegally acquired patented cancer research material and gave it to a Chinese university. Later that year, three New York University School of Medicine researchers were arrested when they accepted payments from a Chinese competitor and a Chinese government-supported research institution in exchange for non-public information about research conducted at the school. Earlier this year, a University of Kansas professor was indicted on federal fraud charges for allegedly failing to disclose a full-time employment contract he held with a Chinese university while conducting research funded by federal research contracts.

According to the Washington Post, administrators are frequently requesting FBI briefings but are also struggling to balance national security concerns with their desire to not stifle research or damage the reputations of legitimate scientists. For example, Temple University Professor Xiaoxing Xi is suing the FBI for accusing him of sending designs for a pocket heater to China. The charges were dropped in 2015.

“I can only speak from my experience that whatever they put out there is not necessarily true,” he claimed.

That being said, the FBI says it’s getting positive feedback from universities about the campaign. Agency officials also say they are hoping and encouraging institutions of higher education to take steps to protect intellectual property but not monitor researchers by nationality. The Justice Department says only a relatively few researchers are engaged in theft.

Earlier this year, the Association of American Universities (AAU) and the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU) gathered a sample of some of the best practices being implemented by universities to combat emerging security threats. It encouraged all universities to review the examples and consider implementing them on their campuses.

Some of the actions universities are encouraged to take include:

  • Awareness building and communication across campus — sharing steps that are already being taken to ensure the security of the research enterprise on campus
  • Conveying to faculty the importance of fully and accurately disclosing conflicts of interest and conflicts of commitment, including foreign affiliations and positions and foreign financial conflicts
  • Creating high-level, cross-campus working groups and task forces to bring together key faculty and staff stakeholders
  • Increased activities related to faculty and staff training
  • Review of foreign gifts, grants, contracts and collaborations
  • Protection of intellectual property and use of technology control plans
  • Regular interactions with federal security and intelligence agencies
  • Safeguards and protection for foreign travel, including software use restrictions and security briefings
  • Vetting and securely hosting foreign visitors while on campus
  • Strengthening of policies to ensure full compliance with federal export control requirements and hiring staff with specific export control compliance expertise.

The full document can be read here

About the Author

Robin Hattersley Gray
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Robin has been covering the security and campus law enforcement industries since 1998 and is a specialist in school, university and hospital security, public safety and emergency management, as well as emerging technologies and systems integration. She joined CS in 2005 and has authored award-winning editorial on campus law enforcement and security funding, officer recruitment and retention, access control, IP video, network integration, event management, crime trends, the Clery Act, Title IX compliance, sexual assault, dating abuse, emergency communications, incident management software and more. Robin has been featured on national and local media outlets and was formerly associate editor for the trade publication Security Sales & Integration. She obtained her undergraduate degree in history from California State University, Long Beach.

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