Grand Jury: Former Boston Scientific engineer stole secrets

Boston Scientific in Arden Hills
In this March 15, 2010 photo, the Boston Scientific facility in Arden Hills, Minn. is seen.
Glen Stubbe / Star Tribune via AP 2010

A federal grand jury has indicted a former Minnesota engineer at Boston Scientific alleging he stole trade secrets from the medical device company using thumb drives.

Aaron Quoc Khieu is charged with seven counts of wire fraud and seven counts of theft and attempted theft of trade secrets. He pleaded not guilty to the charges earlier this month.

Khieu worked at Boston Scientific's Maple Grove facility, where he worked in the development of new catheters, which help to improve blood flow, according to the indictment made public Thursday.

Behind the news: Non-competes and trade secrets

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The company had made advancements in catheter design, which led to the "Mustang" and "Sapphire" designs and a version which has yet to be patented, according to court documents. Because the third design has yet to be patented, the court released a redacted indictment.

The indictment alleges that Khieu planned to use Boston Scientific trade secrets to manufacture and sell his own brand of catheters under the company name Snowflake Medical. He would have the devices manufactured in Vietnam and sell them to physicians and hospitals in Vietnam, the United States and other countries.

Khieu is accused of recruiting potential investors at a meeting in Minnetonka in 2012 and through emails, the indictment said. At the Minnetonka meeting, he told potential investors about his recent trip to Vietnam and meetings he had there with doctors and hospital officials according to court documents.

Boston Scientific took clear measures to keep trade secrets from getting out, including limiting access to certain servers and files to certain employees and training employees on the need for confidentiality with company data. The indictment notes that the company also stamped materials with warnings such as "BOSTON SCIENTIFIC CONFIDENTIAL."

On two separate occasions, in October 2012 and again in June of 2013, Khieu loaded a thumb drive with more than 100 documents, including lab results for the yet to be patented catheter device, according to court documents.

Khieu's attorney Kyle Wermerskirchen did not return a call seeking comment.

Boston Scientific also did not respond to requests for comment.

Kevin Rhodes, the chief intellectual property counsel for 3M in St. Paul, said products that are patented can still be protected as trade secrets.

"It's perfectly appropriate and commonplace for certain specific aspects of an invention not required to be disclosed in order to get a patent can still be protected by a trade secret," he said.

Rhodes said companies have given more importance to intellectual property protections in recent years as people move more frequently between jobs and companies. Rhodes recommends employment agreements that require confidentiality and tracking which employees work with trade secret information.

"Those sort of safeguards or protections become increasingly important especially as more and more of our trade secret information resides in IT systems that can be accessed from multiple locations, in multiple countries and by multiple individuals," he said.