A Chinese court has jailed three people for stealing information on Apple's iPad 2 design, which was used to make protective cases for the device months before the tablet was launched.

The Shenzhen Baoan People's Court ruled this month that the three persons had collaborated to steal trade secrets from Apple supplier, Foxconn, which builds the iPad in factories in China.

The scheme was initiated last July when Xiao Chengsong, the head of a Chinese electronics company, contacted Hou Pengna, a former employee at Foxconn about obtaining information on the iPad 2 design.

Hou then funneled 20,000 yuan (£1,900) to Lin Kecheng, a section chief with Foxconn's research and development group. In return, Lin provided documents on the iPad 2's casing design. Xiao's company, MacTop Electronics, then used the information to manufacture more than 100 iPad 2 outer protective casings, publicizing the products on the Web.

Xiao was sentenced to 18 months in prison and fined for 150,000 yuan. Lin was sentenced to 14 months, and fined 100,000 yuan, while Hou was sentenced to one year, and fined 30,000 yuan.

Xiao and his company MacTop could not be reached for comment.

Foxconn said in a statement, "We cannot comment on matters of internal security, but Foxconn takes its commitment to protecting its intellectual property as well as that of its customers very seriously and undertakes all appropriate actions to safeguard against any violations."

Apple did not respond to a request for comment.

The Shenzhen Baoan People's Court announced the sentencing on Tuesday, posting the information on its Chinese microblog. The court said that the research and development connected with the stolen trade secret is estimated to be worth 2.06 million yuan.

Listings of iPad 2 protective cases were posted last year on sites operated by Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba Group. But the company later took down the listings after receiving a request to do so.