The company has an extensive intellectual property portfolio of more than 100 issued and pending patents and exclusive licenses to issued patents, the statement said.
According to an affidavit in support of the complaint against Zhang and Yan, on Aug. 7, 2013, agents of U.S. Customs and Border Protection found stolen seeds in the luggage of a group of visitors from China preparing to board a plane to return home.
While in the United States, the group had visited various agricultural facilities and universities in the Midwest, as well as the Dale Bumpers National Rice Research Center in Stuttgart, Ark.
The complaint also indicates that Zhang worked for the company in question since 2008. Stolen seeds were delivered to members of the Chinese delegation during the delegation's visit to the United States July 16 through August 7, 2013.
Yan, who worked for the USDA as a rice geneticist at the Dale Bumpers National Rice Research Center, picked up the Chinese delegation from a motel in Stuttgart, Ark., on July 22, 2013, and took them to the center. Seeds similar to what were found in the delegation's possession as they left the United States in August 2013, were also found in Zhang's residence on December 11, 2013, the complaint said.
If convicted, Zhang and Yan face a maximum penalty of 10 years in federal prison and a fine up to $250,000.
American Seed Trade Association President Andrew LaVigne Friday said the ASTA is "deeply concerned" by the arrest of individuals conspiring to steal trade secrets.
"ASTA has long supported innovation in the U.S. seed and agriculture industry, and the protection of intellectual property rights for these inventions and their inventors," LaVigne noted.
"We are extremely pleased to see that the matter at hand is being taken seriously by the U.S. government. The swift action sends the message that no matter the nationality, either domestic or international, this practice is unacceptable."