A Portuguese entrepreneur claims that Chinese tech giant Huawei stole his 360-degree smartphone-attachable camera invention after he pitched the patent-pending product to the company for licensing five years ago.
The offending product, according to Rui Pedro Oliveira, CEO of multimedia company Imaginew, is Huawei’s smartphone-attachable camera called EnVizion 360 Camera, announced in 2017.
The 45-year-old entrepreneur from Porto said that during the past year, he had been negotiating with Huawei’s U.S. lawyers to resolve the dispute and believed that they were approaching a settlement—only to find that the company had sued him at a Texas court on March 25.
The lawsuit, filed by Huawei’s U.S. subsidiaries, Huawei Technologies USA Inc. and Huawei Device USA Inc., seeks a declaration that the companies didn’t infringe upon Oliveira’s patent.
The inventor’s claims add to a growing pile of accusations against Huawei, from allegations of technology theft to governments warning of security risks that its products could be used by Beijing for spying.
At the same time, many countries are finalizing their decisions on whether to include the company’s technology in their emerging 5G networks. The United States, Australia, New Zealand, and several mobile operators in Europe and Asia have already shut out Huawei from their 5G plans.
In an extensive interview with The Epoch Times, Oliveira explained how he visited the United States in 2014 to pitch his camera to various technology companies in hopes that they would license, manufacture, and sell his invention.
With the help of a U.S. businessman who set up the meetings, Oliveira secured a meeting with Huawei on May 28, 2014. The two were invited to discuss the licensing opportunity at Huawei’s U.S. headquarters in Plano, Texas.
At the time, Oliveira’s invention, a 360-degree camera attachable to smartphones called SmatCam, was patent pending with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. The two patents relating to the camera have since been approved.
Prior to the meeting, Oliveira entered into a non-disclosure agreement with one of Huawei’s representatives, a copy of which The Epoch Times has obtained.
Oliveira said he met with four representatives from the company’s business and sales divisions, and gave a presentation, which included the results of focus group tests that surveyed how people reacted to the product, priced at $99.95.
During the meeting, he also presented a 3D model of his invention and showed them the design drawings attached to his patent applications.
The entrepreneur said the Huawei representatives expressed interest and asked him to return the next day to give the same presentation to some technicians. This, Oliveira said, seemed to be a good sign, as most other companies he pitched to didn’t ask for a second meeting.
After the second meeting, Oliveira was told that the company would consider his offer and get back to him soon.
The entrepreneur never heard back from Huawei.
Dealings With Huawei
Oliveira didn’t think back to those meetings for three years, until one day, a friend who knew about his invention messaged him, telling him to check out a website link to Huawei’s new smartphone-attachable camera, the EnVizion 360 Camera.
“I thought it was crazy. How could they dare to do something so … similar?” Oliveira said.
The camera was sold at $99.95, the same price suggested during Oliveira’s presentation.
He immediately emailed the Huawei representatives he met with in 2014, as he had kept their business cards, alleging that Huawei’s EnVizion Camera violated his intellectual property. He was eventually referred to the company’s U.S. legal department.
Through his Portuguese lawyer, Oliveira said he started communicating with two of Huawei’s U.S. attorneys from about April 2018, after he sent a letter to Huawei charging that the company had infringed upon his patents and seeking compensation.
After a few months of back and forth communication, Huawei’s lawyers told him they couldn’t proceed with discussions until Oliveira hired a U.S. attorney.
So Oliveira and his wife decided to sell his house in Portugal to fund a U.S. lawyer. The couple sold the house in September 2018 and hired a Boston-based intellectual property attorney.
Oliveira says that he, his wife, and their 10-year-old daughter now rent a house in his hometown of Porto.
His U.S. lawyer resumed negotiations with Huawei’s attorneys, but during the next five months, Oliveira said, there was always something to delay the discussions, such as a missing signature or someone from Huawei would be away on a business trip.
Oliveira believes these tactics were employed “just to pass time until I am hit with severe financial limitations and can no longer pursue the case.”
In late March, however, the negotiations appeared to be making headway. Earlier, Oliveira had told Huawei’s lawyer that if they didn’t negotiate a settlement by April 1, he would start legal action against the company for patent infringement.
According to Oliveira, on March 25, Huawei’s attorney asked him to offer an amount to settle the matter. Oliveira made an offer, and was told the next day that the attorney was going to inform Huawei superiors in China of the offer and get back to him.
Days passed without a reply from Huawei.
Now Oliveira knows why. That same day, the company had filed a lawsuit against him at the federal court in the eastern district of Texas, seeking a declaration that its EnVizion 360 Camera did not infringe upon his patents.
“I’m speechless. I didn’t know … how low [they] could go,” he said.
Oliveira said he was completely blindsided by Huawei’s actions, as he was carrying out negotiations in good faith and expected the other party to act the same.
At no point during the negotiations did Huawei mention a lawsuit, he said.
In its court documents, Huawei acknowledged the meeting “on or about 28-29 May 2014” wherein Oliveira met with company representatives in Plano to “discuss his patents and business plan and offer a license to Huawei USA.”
The company later rejected Oliveira’s offer, court documents state.
Huawei USA’s affiliate in China, Huawei Device Co. Ltd., designed the EnVizion 360 Camera, the document said, adding that the product was first publicly announced in September 2017.
In addition to a judgment that Huawei did not infringe upon Oliveira’s intellectual property, the company also seeks an order that Oliveira pay Huawei’s attorney fees on the basis that “this case is exceptional … due to … Oliveira’s actions, including but not limited to express or implied threats to harm Huawei USA’s reputation in the press unless Huawei USA pays money to settle the dispute.”
Huawei did not respond to The Epoch Times’ requests for comment.
In a response to Portuguese technology website Pplware, which published a story about Oliveira’s dispute with Huawei on March 16, 2019, Huawei said the EnVizion 360 was developed entirely by its research and development team in China, and thus denied Oliveira’s allegations of intellectual property theft, adding that the company “reserved the right to take legal action in response to false charges.”
The company is no stranger to legal controversy. Huawei and its affiliates currently face two U.S. federal prosecutions.
In a 13-count indictment, the company, as well as its chief financial officer (CFO), were charged with bank fraud and violating U.S. sanctions against Iran. Prosecutors allege Huawei lied to banks about its relationship with an unofficial subsidiary that did business with Iran, thus causing the banks to unknowingly breach U.S sanctions.
Meanwhile, its CFO Meng Wanzhou, who is also the daughter of Huawei’s founder, is fighting extradition proceedings in Canada in relation to this case.
In a separate 10-count indictment, prosecutors accuse Huawei of stealing trade secrets, committing wire fraud, and obstructing justice for allegedly stealing information from mobile carrier T-Mobile about its robot nicknamed “Tappy,” which was designed to test smartphones’ durability.
In that case, prosecutors also allege the company established a bonus program to reward employees who would steal confidential information from competitors.
In early March, Huawei announced it is suing the U.S. government over section 889 of the National Defense Authorization Act passed last August, which bans federal agencies and their contractors from purchasing Huawei equipment. Lawmakers had added that provision due to national security risks associated with Huawei products.
Outside of the courts, Bloomberg reported in February that the FBI was investigating Huawei for suspected theft of diamond-coated smartphone glass technology made by Illinois-based tech company AKHAN Semiconductor.
AKHAN, the report said, had sent samples of the diamond glass to Huawei for standard testing after the Chinese smartphone maker expressed interest in licensing the technology. The glass, however, was returned to AKHAN in pieces—raising the company’s suspicions that Huawei had tampered with the glass to figure out how it was engineered, Bloomberg reported.
A February report by The Information, citing unnamed sources, said Huawei had approached Apple suppliers, former Apple employees, and Foxconn assembly line workers for information on components used in Apple products, including the Apple Watch’s heart-rate monitor and a connecter for the MacBook Pro. Huawei denied the allegations.
At the time of publication, Oliveira has yet to be served with the lawsuit.
The entrepreneur said he will now have to tap into proceeds from the sale of his house to hire another U.S. attorney to defend this new action.
Apart from setting aside some money for his young daughter’s education, Oliveira is prepared to use all the money to see this case through.
He believes the lawsuit is an attempt to scare him into backing down.
“They need much more to make me sweat,” he said.
“I won’t give up.”