In November, for example, a Huawei engineer heading up smartwatch development tracked down a supplier that helps build the Apple Watch’s heart rate sensor, The Information said. The person arranged a meeting with the claim he could offer a manufacturing contract, but instead probed for details about the Apple Watch, an anonymous executive at the supplier said.
The engineer was accompanied by four researchers, and together the group is said to have spent an hour and a half asking about the Watch. With nothing given Huawei went silent.
Huawei has reportedly used similar tactics against companies like Cisco, Motorola, and Akhan Semiconductor. The U.S. Justice Department in fact claims that Huawei has a program that rewards employees for stealing data, with better bonuses based on how confidential information is.
An earlier Apple-related incident, according to one source, involved Huawei copying a 2016 connector design used to make the MacBook Pro hinge thinner while linking the display to the logic board. A similar component then appeared in Huawei’s 2018 MateBook Pro, something achieved by shopping Apple’s schematic around to various suppliers — most of which recognized the design and refused to build it. Eventually the company found a willing partner.
Another alleged tactic is talking to people who formerly worked with Apple or its supply chain. In one case, a person interviewed with Huawei immediately after leaving Apple, only to be repeatedly asked about upcoming products and features. They refused and stopped taking interviews.
“It was clear they were more interested in trying to learn about Apple than they were in hiring me,” the person explained.
Huawei has become the center of a maelstrom surrounding the Chinese government’s business policies. The company is believed to have government ties, which has led to calls in the U.S. and elsewhere to ban it from supplying 5G infrastructure. Chinese operatives have regularly conducted cyber attacks in the U.S.
Huawei and its CFO, Wanzhou Meng, were recently hit with a barrage of U.S. charges accusing it of bank fraud, wire fraud, violations of the International Emergency Economic Powers Act, and conspiracy to commit money laundering. Theft of trade secrets is another item on the docket, though mostly because of a 2013 incident related to a T-Mobile phone-testing robot.
Legal action has only worsened relations between the two countries, which are in the middle of a trade war initiated by U.S. President Donald Trump. Among other demands, Trump has called on China to better protect the intellectual property of foreign firms.