Former Intel engineer charged with stealing trade secrets

Man started working for rival chip maker AMD while still employed by Intel

A former Intel design engineer has been charged with theft of trade secrets from the chip maker while secretly working for rival Advanced Micro Devices.

Biswamohan Pani was charged in U.S. District Court in Boston in late August.

According to an affidavit filed with the courts, Pani began working at the Hudson, Mass., facility, where Intel does research and product development, in 2003. One of the projects Pani worked on was the design of the Itanium processor.

According to the affidavit, investigators found no reason to believe that AMD was involved in the alleged theft of trade secrets.

"At this point, there has been no evidence that AMD knew that Pani had downloaded Intel's files, had encouraged Pani to do so or that it received those files at all," wrote FBI Special Agent Timothy Russell in the affidavit. "It appears at this point that Pani obtained Intel's trade secrets to benefit himself in his work at AMD without AMD's knowledge."

Michael Silverman, a spokesman for AMD, said in an email to Computerworld that the company is cooperating fully in the investigation. AMD no longer employs Pani.

Intel spokeswoman Claudine Mangano said the company cannot comment on an ongoing investigation. "We're aware of the charges," she added. "Upon learning of the potential issues involving this individual, Intel asked the Department of Justice and the FBI to investigate. We will continue to cooperate."

Pani resigned from Intel in late May, saying that he was going to work at a hedge fund and take accrued vacation time until his last official day on June 11, according to the affidavit. However, Pani began working for AMD on June 2, during that vacation period when he was still employed by Intel, according to the affidavit.

Between June 8 and June 10, while working for both chipmakers, Pani allegedly remotely accessed and downloaded 13 top secret documents from an encrypted system at Intel. Some of the downloaded documents allegedly include design details on Intel's newest chips.

The FBI allegedly found eight Intel documents totaling more than 100 pages, and 19 computer-aided design drawings - all classified as confidential, secret or top secret -- during a search of his house on July 1, according to the affidavit.

"It is critical for Intel's success that the designs and manufacturing methods for its future products remain secret," wrote Russell, who works with the Cyber Crimes squad in the FBI's Boston Office. "Intel's competitors could benefit greatly from this secret knowledge by knowing what benchmark they will need to compete against and by possibly using Intel's secret methods and designs themselves without incurring the research and development costs that Intel has expended

The affidavit noted that during an interview with the FBI, Pani admitted to downloading the files but said he wanted the information to help his wife, who an Intel employee being transferred from California to the Hudson, Mass. facility. Russell said in the affidavit that Pani's wife was assigned to a project at Intel that had no connection with the files.

Intel discovered the problem when another employee heard a rumor that Pani was working at AMD while still working at Intel. That employee pulled up a report showing Pani's access and download history on the encrypted system.

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