An engineer for the China-based smartphone maker Huawei recently sent a photo of some product design material to an Apple supplier. The Huawei engineer’s note gently prodded the supplier to “suggest a design you already have experience with,” but the supplier didn’t play ball.
In case it’s not obvious from reading that, that encounter is reflective of the many ways Huawei has allegedly tried to copy and outright steal Apple trade secrets — an effort the US government outlined in detail in a series of criminal charges against the company that were unveiled last month. A new report today from The Information adds to the mix, reporting details of encounters like the one above, as well as another involving a meeting between Huawei engineers working on a smartwatch and representatives of a component supplier.
During that particular meeting, The Information reports, the Huawei engineers teased promises of making a big order from the supplier while also trying to suss out specs related to the Apple Watch’s heart sensor. They asked the supplier to estimate how much such a sensor costs, suggesting a roundabout probe into the economics around certain Apple products. “The Huawei engineer attended the supplier meeting with four Huawei researchers in tow,” The Information’s report notes. “The Huawei team spent the next hour and a half pressing the supplier for details about the Apple Watch, the executive said.
“’They were trying their luck, but we wouldn’t tell them anything,’ the executive said. After that, Huawei went silent.”
Per Macrumors, encounters like that one reflect “a pattern of dubious tactics” on Huawei’s part to try and score technology from China-based suppliers that work for Apple. “According to a Huawei spokesperson,” the site reports today, “the company has not been in the wrong: ‘In conducting research and development, Huawei employees must search and use publicly available information and respect third-party intellectual property per our business-conduct guidelines.'”
However, “Huawei’s information gathering program led to incidents like the Huawei engineer probing a supplier for Apple Watch details, as well as Huawei copying a component of the MacBook Pro. Specifically, the company built a connector for its MateBook Pro that was just like the one used in Apple’s MacBook Pro from 2016, allowing the computer’s hinge to be thinner while still attaching the display to the logic board.”
Huawei approached several suppliers, the site goes on to report, and provided them with schematics like Apple’s, “but most recognized the part and refused to make it for Huawei. The company told The Information that it requires suppliers to uphold a high standard of ethics and that it doesn’t seek or have access to its competitor’s confidential information. Eventually, Huawei found a willing supplier and the connector was built into the MateBook Pro.”