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Charges dropped against former Bridgestone scientist

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CLEVELAND?The federal government has dropped all charges against a former Bridgestone Americas scientist who had been accused of stealing trade secrets from the company and then lying to federal agents about it.

Judge James S. Gwin of the Cleveland federal district court dismissed trade secret theft charges against Xiaorong Wang Sept. 26. Judge Gwin ruled there was insufficient evidence that Mr. Wang would gain any economic benefit from the documents he downloaded in April 2010, or that he knew his taking the documents would hurt Bridgestone.

The U.S. District Attorney's office in Cleveland followed Oct. 9 by dropping charges that Mr. Wang had made false statements to agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation when they questioned him about the documents.

Judge Gwin dismissed the charges against Mr. Wang without prejudice, meaning the case could be brought again if new evidence surfaces. Mr. Wang's attorney said his client never had any intention of enriching himself from Bridgestone's trade secrets, and also said it was unclear whether the files Mr. Wang downloaded were even secret.

Mr. Wang, who joined Bridgestone in Akron in 1995, was senior scientist and project leader at Bridgestone Americas Center for Research and Technology. In April 2010, according to an affidavit sworn by an FBI agent, Mr. Wang was fired for allegedly sending abusive emails to a company colleague in Japan.

On April 14, 2010, Mr. Wang burned files onto compact discs that included corporate research information as well as family photos and other personal items, according to the affidavit.

Among the items Mr. Wang allegedly copied were files on development of polymers for new racing tires; on the strategy and direction of research for mono/bi-functional polymers; on planned process changes to butadiene rubber production in Japan; on specifications for liquid paper powders; and on the commercialization of guayule rubber.

On Sept. 24, the day Mr. Wang's trial began, Bridgestone attorney Merideth Hooker filed an affidavit with the Cleveland court requesting that some of the exhibits to be presented at trial be protected from public disclosure. These exhibits were trade secrets and Bridgestone would be harmed significantly if they were disclosed to the public, the lawyer said.

In a statement issued after the case's dismissal, Bridgestone said it takes very seriously any attempt to compromise its intellectual property. The company also noted it was not a party to the trial in Cleveland.

?Nothing about the trial proceedings or the outcome thus far affects (Bridgestone's) commitment to protect its trade secrets and intellectual property,? the Nashville, Tenn.-based tire maker said.

Paul F. Adamson, Mr. Wang's attorney, said his client never had any intention of doing anything inappropriate with the files.

?There was a good faith dispute between Bridgestone and Mr. Wang about the materials he had on his compact discs,? Mr. Adamson said. Mr. Wang felt he had a right to copies of the files, Adamson said, and in any case the newest file was dated 2006. ?We can't honestly say that any of it constituted trade secret information,? he said.

Mr. Adamson said he hopes Mr. Wang's vindication will restore his good reputation and allow him to get back into scientific research. ?He's one of the nicest guys I've ever met,? Mr. Adamson said of Mr. Wang.

To reach this reporter: mmoore@crain.com; 202-662-7211.

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