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.
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 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
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."
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.
"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.