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It Was A Company With A Lot Of Promise. Then A Chinese Customer Stole Its Technology

When a Chinese wind turbine maker stole vital trade secrets from American Superconductor, the damage was enormous. The theft cost the firm hundreds of millions of dollars and resulted in mass layoffs.
Pigeons fly past the company logo of Sinovel Wind Co., Ltd. outside its head office in Beijing, in 2011. In January 2018, Sinovel was convicted in the U.S. of stealing trade secrets from American Superconductor. Source: Stringer China

Massachusetts-based American Superconductor seemed to be riding high in early 2011, reaping strong sales and even praise from the White House for successfully cracking the Asian import markets.

Then, one day that April, employees were called to a meeting where they heard some very disturbing news.

Their largest customer, Beijing-based Sinovel, which provided three-quarters of the company's revenue, had refused to accept a shipment of electronic components for its wind turbines — and wouldn't pay millions of dollars it owed for them. The reasons it gave were ambiguous.

"People were shocked," says Tron Melzl, a product manager in one of the company's Wisconsin offices.

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