Telecom Timeout

Sep 10 2014   10:02AM GMT

T-Mobile lawsuit charges Huawei with robot theft, espionage

Katherine Finnell Katherine Finnell Profile: Katherine Finnell


T-Mobile filed a lawsuit last week against Huawei alleging that Huawei employees stole parts and software from a smartphone testing robot named “Tappy.”

In the lawsuit, T-Mobile alleges that between 2012 and 2013, Huawei violated several confidentiality and non-disclosure agreements by stealing Tappy’s parts, software and design details to create its own softphone testing robot. T-Mobile claims the Huawei’s Chinese research and development department directed its own department and Huawei USA employees to steal Tappy-related information from T-Mobile’s Bellevue, Wash. headquarters.

T-Mobile said it developed Tappy in 2007 to test smartphones by replicating typical human use. The mobile provider said Tappy has reduced the cost and time of testing while increasing the quality. T-Mobile alleges Huawei, which was a supplier for the provider at that time, now has a testing robot that performs the same function as Tappy.

T-Mobile said in the suit that it requires suppliers to enter “contracts that prohibit them from misappropriating information they learn about the robot during the testing process” and that Huawei entered at least three separate contracts.

In the lawsuit, T-Mobile detailed several incidents where Huawei employees allegedly stole information, including a May 2013 incident where a Huawei employee was alone in the testing lab and hid one of Tappy’s parts behind a computer monitor. The employee removed it three hours later by putting it in his laptop bag when he exited the lab. T-Mobile alleges the employee brought the part, one of Tappy’s fingertips, to Huawei’s offices and provided information on it during a conference call with the vendor’s research and development department.

Following this and several other incidents, T-Mobile said it revoked Huawei’s access to the lab. In October 2013, however, T-Mobile alleged a Huawei vendor attempted to reactivate a security badge and break into restricted areas of the lab.

T-Mobile said it was forced to end its business relationship with Huawei due to these accusations. While the provider hasn’t specifically stated the amount of damages it’s seeking, T-Mobile said the cost of switching away from Huawei cost tens of millions of dollars, and it “incurred substantial costs in investigating these violations.”

T-Mobile said in the lawsuit that Huawei has since admitted to several of these violations. William Plummer, a spokesman for Huawei, said there was “some truth” to T-Mobile’s lawsuit “in terms of two Huawei employees acting inappropriately in their zeal to better understand a customer’s quality testing requirements.” Plummer said those employees were fired for their actions.

Plummer said Huawei respect’s T-Mobile right to file suit and will “cooperate fully with any investigation and court proceeding to protect our rights and interests.”

This is not the first time Huawei has been accused of intellectual property theft. In 2003, Cisco accused Huawei of attempting to lure away Cisco employees to replicate Cisco projects. In 2012, a U.S. Congressional panel warned mobile and telecom providers against working with Huawei, citing national security concerns due to Huawei’s relationship with the Chinese government.

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