GREENEVILLE, Tenn. — A Ph.D. chemist is facing several charges related to stealing trade secrets on developing BPA-free coatings for the inside of beverage cans and setting up a new coating company in China.
The U.S. Department of Justice said that Dr. Xiaorong You, 59, from Michigan, worked with The Coca-Cola Company in Atlanta and Eastman Chemical Company in Kingsport. She was employed as a principal engineer for global research at Coca-Cola from December 2012 through August 2017, which was developing various BPA-free technologies at the time.
Officials said that because of education and experience with BPA-free technologies, she was one of a limited number of Coca-Cola employees with access to the trade secrets around the technologies.
Until recently, BPA was used to coat the inside of cans and other containers to minimize flavor loss and prevent the container from reacting with food. However, potential health risks with it were found, so companies began searching for BPA-free alternatives.
Witnesses at a 12-day trial in Greeneville said that developing the alternatives was an expensive process. In total, the trade secrets cost around $120,000,000 to develop, according to officials.
Officials said that Dr. You also had access to the trade secrets from September 2017 through June 2018 as a packaging application development manager for Eastman Chemical Company in Kingsport.
Officials said that the secrets belonged to Akzo-Nobel, BASF, Dow Chemical, PPG, Toyochem and Sherwin Williams.
According to a release from officials, Dr. You stole the secrets to set up a new BPA-free coating company in China. They said she received millions of dollars in Chinese government grants to support the company, along with her Chinese corporate partner — Weihai Jinhong Group.
The FBI's Knoxville Field Office and the Department of Homeland Security's Homeland Security Investigation department handled the case, officials said. Dr. You is scheduled to be sentenced on Nov. 1 at 10:30 a.m.
She was convicted of conspiracy to commit trade secret theft, conspiracy to commit economic espionage, possession of stolen trade secrets, economic espionage, and wire fraud. She was originally indicted in February 2019 for trade secret offenses and wire fraud and was charged in another August 2020 indictment with economic espionage.