Apple said if the confidential material came out, it would be "hugely damaging to the company," the lawsuit said.
It's the second time in about six months that a Chinese citizen has been charged with stealing secrets from the Apple Project, whose existence the company does not even want to publicly acknowledge.
Chen first aroused suspicion at Apple when a colleague reported he had taken pictures of the self-driving car project with a wide-angle lens earlier this month. According to the complaint.
Apple initiated an investigation and uncovered more than 2,000 files on Chen's computer Information, it said from the court documents. The investigators said that Chen also took sensitive information on his computer screen, bypassing Apple's network monitoring.
The FBI said the engineer admitted that he also backed up his Apple work computer on a personal hard drive, which violated corporate policies.
In particular, two photos led to the complaint to "immediate criminal charges" against Chen. One shows an assembly drawing of a wiring harness for a self-driving car, and the other was a diagram showing how sensors interact with other parts of the car to make it run autonomously.
Chen's lawyer, Daniel Olmos, declined to comment on the case. Chen was released last week after giving up his passport and depositing $ 100,000 in bail.
According to the complaint, he informed Apple that he had downloaded information about the project as an "insurance policy" on his personal hard drive if he lost his job in the company. Apple later found that he had applied for two jobs at other companies, including a Chinese Autonomous Vehicle Company that competes directly with Apple's project.
Apple spokespeople did not immediately respond to requests outside regular business hours.
The Battle for Self-Driving Cars
In July, Chinese engineer Xiaolang Zhang was arrested and charged with theft of trade secrets while working on the Apple self-propelled project. Apple's investigation into Zhang began after the engineer said he would go to Xiaopeng Motors, a Chinese electric vehicle startup.
Zhang has not pleaded guilty.