An American who was formerly a vice president at Hewlett-Packard is facing up to 10 years in prison for stealing IT trade secrets.

Atul Malhotra from Santa Barbara in California pleaded guilty in the San Jose, California federal court to one count of theft of trade secrets.

Malhotra stole the information when he was working for IBM and is alleged to have passed it onto HP, who he later worked for.

The court heard how Malhotra had worked for IBM until April 2006 as a sales director in the IBM Global Services division.

Malhotra admitted that, in March of that year (2006), he requested confidential information about IBM product costs and materials.

In July 2006, 2 months after he took a job as a vice president of imaging and printing services at HP, Malhotra passed the IBM information to two senior HP vice presidents, in emails with the subject "For Your Eyes Only - confidential", the department said.

Malhotra said in the emails that the information would help HP's sales teams better understand competitors' goals.

He now faces a maximum prison sentence of 10 years.