In a lawsuit that seems like something out of a science fiction movie, T-Mobile has accused Chinese telecom giant Huawei of stealing the designs and parts of the company’s top secret cell phone testing robot, nicknamed “Tappy.”
The suit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington, alleges that Huawei officials conspired to steal parts of the robot as well as its designs in order to build a copy for the Chinese company. The robot is designed to simulate the touch of a human finger, so that T-Mobile can test devices that it plans to carry in order to develop maintenance plans and find ways to lower device return costs.
The suit, first reported by the Seattle Times, was confirmed by GeekWire this afternoon.
Of course, if a cell phone maker were able to recreate the testing rig, especially if it’s as useful as T-Mobile suggests, it could be a major boon for that company’s reliability testing. Which is why T-Mobile claims that Huawei went to extreme lengths to try and document the robot in order to build one for itself. Huawei no longer provides phones for T-Mobile, though it did at the time the alleged thefts took place.
T-Mobile’s complaint outlines a number of serious allegations, including the theft of test sequences. One Huawei employee was allegedly sent to the T-Mobile testing lab in order to photograph the company’s robot with his smartphone. According to the complaint, two Huawei employees who had access to the room the robot was stored in let the man in, despite T-Mobile’s insistence that he wasn’t allowed in the room.
According to the complaint, one Huawei employee even went so far as to steal an arm from the robot, in order to measure it and provide specifications to the company on how to replicate it before returning it to T-Mobile.
In a statement provided to GeekWire, Huawei said that the company developed its own robot with T-Mobile’s knowledge, and that the actions were taken in order to resolve “technical discrepancies” between the two companies’ robots. According to the company’s statement, the measurements of the stolen robot arm were not used, and two employees were fired over the incident.
T-Mobile has not specified the damages that it is seeking in the suit.
T-Mobile’s full complaint, as well as Huawei’s response, can be found below.
Huawei is aware of the lawsuit filed by T-Mobile against Huawei Device USA and Huawei Technologies on September 2. After investigation, we have learned about the following facts:
In 2009, Huawei Device USA became a mobile phone supplier to T-Mobile USA. According to T-Mobile USA’s procurement process, samples of Huawei devices supplied to T-Mobile USA must be submitted and tested at T-Mobile USA’s lab, and pass the Robot entry test before mass production. Starting from June 2012, Huawei independently developed its xDeviceRobot system for the entry test of devices for T-Mobile USA. This system was designed to identify and locate problems early on, shorten the testing time at T-Mobile USA’s lab, and speed up the product launch. However, some discrepancies were found between the test results on the xDeviceRobot and those from T-Mobile USA’s Robot testing system. T-Mobile USA’s testing team provided the conductive rubber tip to Huawei’s device testing team for optimization on the Huawei xDeviceRobot. T-Mobile USA was aware that Huawei had developed its own xDeviceRobot.
During the following tests using the xDeviceRobot, Huawei Device engineers found that some discrepancies still existed between the testing results on the xDeviceRobot and those from T-Mobile USA’s lab using the same device samples. The testing team wanted to resolve these technical discrepancies.
On May 14, 2013, Wang Yu (Frank), an engineer at Huawei Device, entered T-Mobile USA’s lab and took the liberty to take pictures of the T-Mobile USA Robot testing system, violating its lab policy. On May 29, 2013, Duan Fei, another engineer at Huawei Device, sent an email to Xiong Xinfu (Adam), a testing engineer at Huawei Device USA, stating: “Please help use calipers to measure the diameter （of the rod for the capacitive pen） so that the home environment aligns with the frontline.” On the same afternoon, Xiong took one robot arm out of T-Mobile USA’s lab without obtaining permission from T-Mobile USA. Xiong took measurements that evening and later sent them to other engineers at Huawei Device. Xiong Xinfu returned the robot arm to T-Mobile USA’s lab on May 30. Huawei never used the measurement information Xiong Xinfu provided.
On May 30, 2013, the Director of Network & Device Quality Assurance at T-Mobile USA filed a complaint regarding the conduct of Wang Yu and Xiong Xinfu to Huawei Executive Director of Sales for the T-Mobile USA Account. Huawei Device USA suspended Wang Yu and Xiong Xinfu immediately and initiated an immediate internal investigation. As requested by T-Mobile USA investigators, Huawei Device USA also provided documents with regard to the internal investigation and made the two employees involved available to T-Mobile USA’s investigators for interview. The CEO of Huawei Device USA apologized to T-Mobile USA for the conduct of these two employees. In September 2013, Huawei’s Human Resource Department released an internal document, stating “The conduct of Wang Yu and Xiong Xinfu seriously violated Huawei’s Employee Business Conduct Guidelines and are therefore terminated.” According to Huawei’s HR policies, employees who are terminated for violating the Business Conduct Guidelines can never be hired back by any Huawei subsidiaries in the future.
On May 5, 2014, Huawei Device USA received a Demand Letter from T-Mobile USA’s external legal counsel and escalated the incident to Huawei’s Legal Affairs Department. The Legal Affairs Department immediately asked related employees to preserve all evidence that may be required for a possible lawsuit and communicated with T-Mobile USA’s legal counsel in an effort to resolve the incident through negotiations. In the communication process, Huawei has further produced documents concerning the development of Huawei’s xDeviceRobot and original internal communication records of Wang Yu and Xiong Xinfu in response to the request from T-Mobile USA’s external legal counsel.
Huawei regrets that this incident has brought trouble to T-Mobile USA. We respect the right of T-Mobile USA to file the lawsuit regarding this matter. Huawei Device USA is willing to cooperate fully in the investigation and court trial. Huawei will continue to improve employee training and address concerns of our customers and partners to the best we can.