Huawei pleads not guilty in T-Mobile case

UNDER FIRE: Huawei Technologies Co. is facing a federal investigation for allegedly stealing trade secrets from U.S. companies. Krisztian Bocsi/Bloomberg

Two divisions of the Chinese networking giant Huawei pleaded not guilty Thursday to charges that it stole trade secrets from America's third-largest wireless carrier, T-Mobile, in a bid to copy its technology.

In federal court in Seattle, Huawei – one of the world's biggest wireless equipment makers – said it was not guilty of committing trade secret theft, nor of conspiring to hide such a plan. The case involves Huawei Device Co., Ltd. and Huawei Device USA.

A jury trial has been set for March 2, 2020, before Chief Judge Ricardo Martinez of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington.

The pleas follow a 10-count indictment unsealed last month alleging in part that the Huawei divisions tried to collect information about a robotic arm that T-Mobile used to simulate human touch on its smartphones. The robot, Tappy, became the focus of an intensive effort by Huawei in 2012 to gather technical specs, photographs and other system details, according to the court document.

The case against the Huawei units comes as U.S. officials have warned that Huawei products could present a risk to national security. At a wireless industry conference in Barcelona this week, an American delegation sought to persuade European allies and telecom companies to reject the company's gear over concerns it could be used to eavesdrop on sensitive government communications.

"The United States is asking other governments and the private sector to consider the threat posed by Huawei and other Chinese information technology companies," Robert Strayer, a State Department cybersecurity official, told reporters at the conference this week.

Underlying the security concerns are ongoing trade tensions between the United States and China, as well as a global race to field the first mass-market network for fifth-generation, or 5G, wireless technology. Policymakers and wireless executives say that gaining an early lead on 5G adoption could bring important economic and technological advantages, much as an early U.S. commitment to deploy 4G networks in the last decade helped spur a vibrant app economy that's dominated by American startups and tech companies.

Huawei and the Justice Department declined to comment on the case Thursday.

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