Huawei dismissed a report accusing it of secretly funding a US-based research competition that has awarded millions of dollars since 2022, telling Mobile World Live any such suggestion is “absurd”.

Bloomberg reported Huawei is involved in a “secret” funding effort for research which may be an attempt to circumvent US bans on the export of chips and other network technologies to China. Huawei has long denied US government claims its telecoms equipment could be used for espionage.

The news agency stated the research prizes are awarded through the Optica Foundation, which is part of non-profit professional society Optica that was founded in 1912. The foundation lists 11 categories for “Early Career Prizes & Fellowships” awards, but Huawei isn’t mentioned in any of them.

Bloomberg reported Harvard University, the University of British Columbia and the University of Southern California are past winners of the Huawei sponsored prize.

In response, a Huawei spokesperson told Mobile World Live: “Huawei’s contribution to the Optica Foundation is openly declared on the Foundation’s website, any suggestion of secrecy is absurd. Huawei is proud to be one of many technology companies from around the world supporting the Foundation’s important work.”

According to a non-public document cited by Bloomberg, the foundation isn’t required to designate Huawei as the funding source or programme sponsor of its prize competition and “the existence and content of this Agreement and the relationship between the Parties shall also be considered Confidential Information”.

While the amounts for some of the awards range from $1,500 to a $20,000 stipend to attend a conference, the Huawei-funded competition awards $1 million per year, according to the news agency.

Bloomberg noted some of the winners in the Huawei programme are from universities that have banned their researchers from working with the company. University officials and applicants contacted by the news agency stated they were unaware that Huawei funds the programme.

The foundation’s 2023 annual report lists Huawei in the “highest-level donors” category for companies or entities that have given more than $1 million. Google, Corning and Meta Platforms have given $200,000 or more while Intel chipped in at least $100,000.

The report doesn’t disclose how much the companies donated, when they gave the money or what the funds were used for.

Optica response
Optica CEO Elizabeth Rogan said in a statement to Bloomberg that some of the foundation donors “prefer to remain anonymous, including US donors” and that “there is nothing unusual about this practice”.

She also stated Huawei’s donation won the approval of the foundation’s board and that it was reviewed by outside legal counsel.

Rogan told Mobile World Live the Bloomberg story “raised some important questions not just for the Optica Foundation but the research community at large,” and that its donors are listed in its annual report.

“We are taking a holistic review of our policies to identify ways to increase transparency as the foundation continues to support young researchers in our community,” she said.

Areas of interest the foundation singled out on its website include “high-sensitivity optical sensors and detectors,” “furthering the miniaturisation of high-speed processing circuits for communications” and “undersea and space-based solutions for the global communications grid”.