The latest bid by Chinese kit vendor Huawei to adapt to US sanctions could involve licensing its 5G technology to whoever is willing to pay.
The remarkable claim was made by CEO Ren Zhengfei (pictured) in a recent interview with The Economist. “For a one-time fee, a transaction would give the buyer perpetual access to Huawei’s existing 5G patents, licences, code, technical blueprints and production know-how,” declared the piece. It also noted that the acquirer would be free to muck about with the source code, thus removing the risk of there being nefarious, sneaky bits of spyware or whatever hidden in there.
A technology company’s intellectual property is its crown jewels and under normal circumstances offering it up to competitors would be the very last thing it would do. But these are exceptional times for Huawei and it’s having to consider ever more novel ways of adapting to a time in which many countries around the world are blocking its presence in their 5G networks.
The stated aim for this move is apparently to create a viable non-Chinese competitor to Huawei in order to take the geopolitical heat off it. Ericsson and Nokia would be entitled to take exception to the inference there, but at the same time would surely be tempted to get hold of some of that choice IP.
On further reflection this doesn’t really add up. Ericsson, Nokia and to a lesser extent ZTE and Samsung all have competitive networking offerings, so this feels more like a dig at them than a genuine attempt to move things forward. It also feels like a bit of a public relations gimmick, so Ren can say he’s trying everything to resolve the current situation and the US needs to meet him half way.
This move could also be a further attempt to reassure the US that there are no security concerns with its software by putting it in the hands of competitors that have every incentive to uncover any cyber-naughtiness there may be therein. But how can anyone be sure that the IP Huawei licenses to third parties is identical to that contained within its own kit?
Ren deserves credit for continuing to engage with the western media and for at least appearing to try to come up with solutions to the current impasse. As we saw in the matter of the confiscated Huawei gear, the US isn’t always acting in good faith in this case, but it seems unlikely that this latest initiative will do much to ease its concerns about Huawei’s presence in the 5G networks of itself and its allies.
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