UC Berkeley suspends new research collaborations with telecommunications giant Huawei

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UC Berkeley announced Jan. 30 that it has suspended new collaborations with and research funding from Chinese telecommunications giant and electronics manufacturer Huawei as well as its corporate subsidiaries and affiliates after the U.S. Department of Justice, or DOJ, brought criminal charges against the company.

On Jan. 28, the DOJ issued two indictments against Huawei, as well as against its chief financial officer and some of its affiliates.

The DOJ released a 13-count indictment in New York charging the telecommunications giant with bank fraud, wire fraud, violations of economic sanctions and conspiracy to commit money laundering. In Washington, Huawei was charged with obstruction of justice, theft of trade secrets, conspiracy to commit theft of trade secrets and wire fraud.

“These are serious allegations and warrant a serious response,” said campus Vice Chancellor for Research Randy Katz in a letter addressed to members of the Chancellor’s Cabinet. “I have decided that as a campus, UC Berkeley will not enter into or discuss new research collaborations with Huawei effective today, nor will we seek or accept new research gifts from the company or its subsidiaries and affiliates pending adjudication of the charges.”

The campus will continue to honor existing multiyear collaborative agreements and contracts with Huawei that provide funding for ongoing research projects, Katz added in the letter.

Campus spokesperson Dan Mogulof said in an email that since the 1930s, campus policy has prohibited engagement in research whose results cannot be “openly and publicly published,” with the exception of classified national security work conducted in collaboration with the U.S. government. Mogulof added that campus researchers are not involved with “sensitive” technological secrets or knowledge.

“That is the nature of ‘fundamental’ research,” Mogulof said in an email. “Everything our graduate students and industry partners are privy to is eventually published through open source outlets and publications accessible to all.”

Huawei and its U.S. subsidiary, Futurewei, began initial interactions with and provided financial support for UC Berkeley research efforts in 2012. Campus research funding from Huawei in the past two years totaled $7.8 million out of the more than $1.3 billion that the campus received overall, according to Mogulof.

Huawei is not involved in any research agreements with individual researchers, Mogulof added. The company is not the sole beneficiary of research results or intellectual property in any campus agreements; rather, it contributes in a variety of multiparty corporate affiliate programs and projects.

“These are membership agreements in research centers, and are NOT sponsored research agreements,” Mogulof said in an email. “Through these membership agreements, Huawei is participating along with other members in the research program and only has shared rights with those programs.”

According to UC spokesperson Claire Doan, the UC is aware of the concerns regarding research partnerships with international companies. She added that the UC will continue to “carefully” review the terms and conditions of such agreements for compliance with UC policies and U.S. laws and regulations.

Stanley von Ehrenstein-Smith covers research and ideas. Contact him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @von_ehrenstein.