Exclusive: Inventor Claims Huawei Stole His Camera That Was Patent Pending, Sells House to Fund the Case

Exclusive: Inventor Claims Huawei Stole His Camera That Was Patent Pending, Sells House to Fund the Case

A Portuguese inventor claims that mobile titan Huawei flew him to meet with them to pitch his patent pending 360 camera, only for them to cease all contact and launch their own with undeniable similarities.Huawei aren't unfamiliar with scandals, with 2018 seeing a number of security issues and multiple major US governmental agencies advising against using their devices. This newest potential scandal for the Chinese electronics and telecommunications equipment manufacturer is of a different breed, but troubling all the same.

Rui Pedro Oliveira, Portuguese inventor, entrepreneur, and CEO of Imaginew and I crossed paths by chance — a mutual connection — and he had recently his story on Facebook to friends of his, furious at the injustice. While the reaction was fitting of what Oliveira purports Huawei to have done, what was most concerning was the distinct lack of traction the story had. At first, the cynic in me doubted such a bold claim and particularly one that cannot seem to get any publicity. Realizing that is how all scandals start, I spoke with Oliveira to get his story and his proof. It is compelling.

The Story

On May 28th 2014, Oliveira flew from Oporto, Portugal, to the Huawei headquarters in Plano, Texas, U.S. He says was scheduled to meet with their representatives to discuss his patent pending smartphone attachable camera. In his meeting on the 28th were Jeff Xu, Eric Murrell, Erica Porter, and Michael Guo (he showed me a picture of all of their business cards from the meeting to further add credence, but I chose not to share this image). Oliveira says the meeting went so well, he was asked to return the next morning on May 29th to show more people as they were interested. After he showed all the relevant people his idea and how it worked, along with his two patents that were pending at the time they parted ways and Oliveira returned to Portugal. This is where all communication abruptly stopped.

Oliveira's design for "SMATCAM (taken from SMartphone ATtachable CAMera)."

Oliveira says "people from Huawei showed interest in knowing too much about my invention, but after the two meetings they never talked with me anymore." That in itself, while discourteous, isn't uncommon for tech giants. However, in 2017 Huawei launches a smartphone connecting camera worldwide called EnVizion 360 Camera, selling in the U.S through Amazon and eBay, among other platforms.

Where have I seen this?! This is an exact copy of what I showed them [a] few years before. Not only in the design, that is a fact, but the part of communication with the smartphone that I imagined. — Rui Pedro Oliveira

The Proof

That is a substantial claim, and like all claims of that magnitude, its evidence needs to match. The designs do look strikingly similar and the circumstances are suspicious on the face of it, but there have been attachable smartphone cameras before. For example, my Sony Ericsson mobile phone from the Naughties had a separate camera that plugged in to the bottom of the handset.

Approaching this methodically, we'll start with Oliveira's claims. The meeting I cannot confirm or deny, but what evidence he does have seems to suggest that it would be reasonable to presume it did indeed happen. If that's not enough, Oliveira claims he has an email from a former Vice President at Huawei stating that he was there, that this VP was in the meeting and was showed all of the material, and that he should pursue this with legal affairs at Huawei.

Next is whether or not Oliveira did have a patent pending and before the date of the meeting. The answer to that appears to be a resounding "yes."

Oliveria's Attachable Smartphone Camera U.S Patent Application 9th May 2013 (US9503625B2)

Oliveria's Attachable Smartphone Camera U.S Patent 9th May 2014 (USD782487S1)

Excerpts from Oliveira's patent application document. Click the links above to see the full document.

The patents are manifestly legitimate and the designs of Oliveira's SMATCAM and Huawei's EnVizion are remarkably similar. These two facts combined with the alleged (but seemingly likely) meeting between the two parties does appear to paint a troubling picture of injustice; the age-old story of an industry behemoth exploiting the "little guy".

But the story gets all the more troubling with how Huawei handled this allegation.

The Stonewall

"I started talking with them, the director of legal affairs in the USA, Mrs. K D Schull and Mr. Chenlu ... After several emails, he [claims] that [he] can't talk to me anymore because I don't have an American attorney." This is truly bizarre statement I had to qualify with Oliveira, but he says they did indeed tell him they can't talk to him further until he has a U.S attorney. So, Oliveira sells his home and hires Mr. George Neuner, a U.S attorney, to represent him as of 1st September 2018. That's correct, Oliveira sold his house after discussions with his family in order pursue Huawei over the patent. I had to check this with him as while admirable in the the pursuit of justice, it's a risky and bold move. He said "Yes. Due to what I spent with making the patents and attorneys here in Portugal and then in the US." His wife agreed to the sale to fund the case and the home was quickly sold, displacing Oliveira, his wife, and their young daughter.

Neuner resumed contact with Schull who informed him that "the negotiation will be with Mr. Chen." Oliveira tells me that during all the consequent conversations over the next 5 months, there was always a hold up. He says that something was always missing, be it a signature, or relevant parties at Huawei being away on business trips. Oliveira believes that this is a tactic to run the clock down to the point where he is unable to afford the services of Neuner and will be forced to drop the case.

No End in Sight

Before writing this article I asked for a final update on the situation with Huawei. He claims they are still putting blockades up and he believes they are trying to grind him down and make him quit by taking months to resolve what could be fixed in mere minutes. His case has had no publicity asides a few hundred shares on Facebook by family and friends. Upon hearing his story, I had to resist the urge to be instantly outraged and come at the claims objectively. I reached out to Huawei to get a response from them in any way, shape, or form; even if they were just to deny the claims, but try as I might, they won't reply.

It's uncomfortable to imagine that a company of the size of Huawei can steal patent pending ideas from inventors and march on free from consequence, should that be the case. The seeming impunity is infuriating even to a reader, so one can scarcely empathize enough with Rui Pedro Oliveira and his family whose livelihood is under threat because a tech giant can ride waves of allegations until they dissipate.

What are your thoughts on this case? Oliveira would appreciate any assistant in spreading his story.

Robert K Baggs's picture

Robert K Baggs is a professional portrait and commercial photographer, educator, and consultant from England. Robert has a First-Class degree in Philosophy and a Master's by Research. In 2015 Robert's work on plagiarism in photography was published as part of several universities' photography degree syllabuses.

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A Chinese company stealing a patent? Careful with that feather, you'll knock me over...

Not stealing. Just copying...

Giant tech companies don't have a problem stealing from small organizations. The patents laws in the US are practically design so big companies can steal from small inventors without any consequences.

We have to be clear on one thing though. Regardless if this claim is true or not, the so called "security issues" that the US governmental is screaming about is nothing but political. No one can prove it and there is no scandal there whatsoever.

This whole Chinese-as-the-bogeymen of IP theft is not one of who does and who doesn't. It's one of who does it more. As you've stated US firms of any stripe (Tech, media, etc.) are not innocent of doing the same things. We've seen photographers get their images stolen all the time with little reciprocity. Not to mention patents. But, who gets all the (political) attention? The Chinese. When everyone stops stealing, I'll cheer. Until then ...

Did they? Does the sun rise in the east?

The biggest shock to me in this story was Huawei has a headquarters in Plano Texas.

No big shock to me. Chinese don't understand or give two s$%ts about IP. Good luck getting a dime out of this.
This scenario is similar to the IP theft on the last season of Silicon Valley.

PS would somebody at fStoppers PLEASE proofread articles before posting them?!

Do you want my personal email and the Huawei email persons involved on this issue so you can get the right answers since you don't believe on this? Feel free. Thanks a lot for your comment. Rui

As someone who is working towards protecting IP for a completely non-photographic project, it's always a bummer when you see someone apparently ripping someone off. It's unpreventable though, we know people will copy us with the stuff we're doing but that doesn't mean I don't want it protected.

Dongle cam though, he's not lost my money and Huawei isn't getting it either.

Let’s be clear, no giant corp from any country gives a crap about IP or stealing tech from others. We just have better laws in the West that prevent it from happening more often. Westerners are not more honest - we just have more to lose.

Indeed Mick, let's watch. Thanks a lot for your position.

Hi Alexander. I know about all prior arts could have before USPTO send me the patents. At that time, surely not even was a camera or a lens that was attached to a smartphone since smartphone even existed nearly 2000. That was a camera that worked himself even without Ericsson mobile phone. It would be my pleasure that you could read the whole design and app patent described above.
My Best,

"Oliveira says the meeting went so well, he was asked to return the next morning on May 29th to show more people as they were interested. After he showed all the relevant people his idea and how it worked."
Why he would do that? If the patent is pending WHY in the name of god he would show how his idea works in a company that they can do reverse engineering. Is not for defend the actions of Huawei but Oliveira was naive enough to give his work in a silver plate and be buried in legal paperwork after, and that's how all the corporations works especially in the tech field. If he want to win this he would need to focus in innovate more his current idea or pivot for a similar yet not fabricated product and make anothe patent because Huawei has enough weight to buried this for years.
Sorry but not sorry mate. Good luck with this.

At least in the US, if multiple parties file for a patent on the same invention, the patent is granted to the first one to file an application. Basically meaning that if Huawei didn't plan to violate his patent outright, going in while the patent was still pending only would have given them the ability to produce the camera until the patent actually went through. It doesn't give them the ability to file their own patent and push him out.

Thanks Ignacio for all inputs.

Sorry to hear for your misfortune mate. I know that sound really hard but I saw a lot of kickstarter projects that fall for similar methods or even really good alternative products that never see the light due companies that buy it just because is a threat to their own products. But as I say above, people just take their core product and do something more innovative, crisis is oportunity and need is the mother of the invention. I wish you the best mate. Godspeed.

Reminds me of a similar scandal in Dubai- not only big corporations steal, even governments do the same. check this: “They took my project, changed the design and built it without me,” says Fernando Donis, the Mexican architect whose frame proposal won an international competition in 2008 for a “tall emblem structure to promote the new face of Dubai”.

Did he make Huawei sign an NDA ?

Yes, I did.

I have a few mutual friends with Rui Pedro Oliveira, we live in the same town.
Ive heard this story from a few friends...its a shame that a company like Huawei would do this...

Thanks Rui. It's not a never-ending story... So far.

c'mon... a big tech company, and a chinese one at that, steals an idea? seriously, next thing i'm gonna hear is that college students experiment with drugs and/or alcohol... crazy. haha....

Not an idea. A patent. Thanks for your comment.

oh okay, sure, i understand your point (well taken), and at the risk of sounding like i'm splitting hairs here- i was coming from a point of view that patents stem from ideas. for example, the first light bulb was an idea and eventually became a patent. i'm not an attorney; much less, i'm not a patent attorney, and even further so, certainly not an international patent attorney, but i'm not certain it's possible to [literally] steal a patent so much as more certain one's been violated, even one that's pending. but, if i'm wrong, at least you know where i was coming from- patents come from ideas.

good luck.

Sounds like that's their way of doing business. Almost exact same thing with different product


Why did he meet with sales people (Jeff Xu & Eric Murrell are VP of Sales on LInkedin), instead of a licensing person or engineer? Did he file a lawsuit? Seems that would resolve all of this. No more "putting up blockades." If his patent is as strong as he says it is, that would make more sense. There are a lot of camera patents out there. Did Huawei steal all of them? My guess is that his claim doesn't hold water and that is why he has resorted to badmouthing them. He should probably be careful that he doesn't get sued for naming all these people.

I don't want to take Huawei's side because I don't have all of the facts, but I'm having a hard time figuring out what Oliveira had patent pending and how that would legally apply to a Chinese company. Did Oliveira actually create some sort of new technology that Huawei copied, or did he simply have the "idea" for a 360 camera that plugs into your phone? As the article and many commenters have suggested, plugging a camera into a phone isn't a new idea and that in itself probably couldn't be patented anyway.

I wish I could have more info from both Oliveira and Huawei.

US patents should have some value regardless the promoter and usurper size. They exist preciselly to protect the weaker side.

I have a PhD in Photonics (EE) from Stanford University and I assisted the inventor Rui Pedro Oliveira to prepare the two patent applications to the US Patent Office. Both patents were granted. Please note that the meetings with Huawei were held during a periods of full IP protection as granted by US law. Having participated in many meetings with the inventor and having witnessed the frustrated correspondence with Huawei, I can only state that in my opinion Huawei has been behaving in a dishonest way. Nothing that surprises me, unfortunately.

Completely true PhD Ing. Jose Salcedo. Your words are my feeling. Thanks a lot for your attitude.

Rui, I am so sorry that this happened to you and that you had to sell your house to be able to hire a US attorney.

I recall one time having a call scheduled about a patent matter with a cell phone manufacturer, but on the eve of the call the lawyer at the cell phone manufacturer couldn’t find a phone that was able to call the US. Feel free to guess as to the identity of the particular company I’m talking about. In any event, that matter was resolved.

I hope you and your family are doing OK in this tough time. While rare, there are some contingency fee patent enforcement lawyers. My website: http://jdbip.com

The title is very misleading. "Inventor Claims Huawei Stole His Camera"
It implies Huawei stole your actual camera and reversed engineered it? The reality is more like they have the same idea of adding a camera attachment to your cellphone so you have a 360 camera on your cellphone. If Rui Oliveira patent is on the attachment part, didn't Dxo ONE already build that?

Yes, DxO built the One add-on for Apple which bankrupted the company. Not 360 degrees, though I'm not sure from a patent perspective what is so special about a 360 degree camera over another add-on camera.

Patents are often a big gamble: in order to submit a patent, you have to disclose your idea extensively on paper to the point where you are practically giving away your idea. The review process is behind closed doors and acceptance is not guaranteed, hence the status ‘pending’. It is not uncommon for applicants to find out, that a very similar application was filed prior hence their idea are not eligible for protection; the timing and similarity are often hard to dismiss.

To make matters worse, patents require renewal fees otherwise the disclosed knowledge becomes forever public knowledge free for anyone to use. While relatively cheap to apply, patents become increasingly expensive to maintain. Unless products can be put into production and released to the mass market making money immediately, patents are often abandoned due to the cost to keep.

Considering that Rui only has only patent pending for his camera idea, it would be hard to to tell whether there are actual infringements, as camera attachments has been implemented long ago by other companies. While I do agree that the appearance of his design is strikingly similar to that of the actual Huawei product, I doubt that you can sue someone for similar taste in aesthetics as they can be argued as general fashion / design trends.

In short, while the Huawei product may be inspired by the meeting with Rui, unfortunately without additional mutual agreement / contracts, Huawei might not be obligated to pay him, at least, royalties for an old idea that is actually open to all. Business is business, and patent pending is not patent.

Without the legal and business sense to protect himself, Rui would have likely met the same fate had he gone to any other companies. At any rate, I can understand that it is a bitter pill to swallow, but that is just that. To sell ones home at the expense of fellow family members, that is just thoughtless.

Regarding prof. Jose Salcedo from Photonics dept Stanford who worked with Rui confirming his story, it is rather curious how a researcher that’s should be familiar with patent applications, to be unable to distinguish between patent pending vs patent granted. Furthermore, even if I cannot find the profile of a PhD under the same name in LinkedIn, I’d imagine that he would be listed in the Stanford photonics faculty member. Zip.

The timing of the story was already fishy, just how much deeper will the rabbit hole get? Not everybody reads just headlines, some people actually go through the trouble to check facts. It is not that hard.