Couple ordered to pay $10 million for stealing trade secrets

ST. LOUIS – A judge has ordered a former employee of a mid-Missouri tech firm and his wife to pay $10 mil­lion for stealing trade se­crets and partnering with a Chinese firm to sell knock­off products to unsuspect­ing buyers, including the U.S. Navy.

Franklin County Associate Circuit Judge Robert Schol­lmeyer this month awarded Rolla-based Brewer Science $8.4 million in punitive dam­ages and $1.6 million in com­pensatory damages to cover the company’s lost profits and research and develop­ment costs due to the actions of Brewer Science engineer Hai Xuan and his wife, Hong Sheng, along with the company they formed, Best Tools LLC.

Brewer Science makes coatings used for micro­chips, along with spin coat­er machines, which apply thin uniform films to flat substrates. The judge de­termined that the couple partnered with a Chinese manufacturer to make and distribute spin coater ma­chines that used Brewer Science technology and was in direct competition with the company.

In 2013, the Depart­ment of the Navy awarded a $5,580 contract to Best Tools LLC for "Laboratory Equipment and Supplies," according to a website that tracks government con­tracts.

Foreign intellectual prop­erty theft "is a threat to American innovation, en­trepreneurship, and jobs," said Alan Gerson, Brewer Science’s chief legal offi­cer. He urged lawmakers and police "to do more to address this issue and help American companies who have been victimized."

The couple’s where­abouts are uncertain. Xuan has no listed phone number, and a message left with Sheng was not returned. The phone at Best Tools LLC has been disconnected. Court documents didn’t list attorneys for them, and they did not appear at the court hearing.

Brewer Science spokes­woman Loretta Wallis said Wednesday that actually getting the money is a chal­lenge since the couple may have left the country.

"Because this is an inter­national issue, it makes it very difficult to collect the funding," Wallis said.