Huawei is getting a first look at cutting-edge defence, health, and AI startups from Oxford University amid US fears that it steals IP

Huawei CEO Ren Zhengfei.

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Huawei CEO Ren Zhengfei.
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Kyodo News via Getty Image

  • Huawei has acquired a 0.7% stake in OSI, a research fund that helps commercialise cutting-edge research coming out the prestigious Oxford University, The Financial Times first reported.
  • Oxford University publicly cut ties with Huawei early this year, suspending research grants and other funding connections. While OSI is not directly affiliated with Oxford, it has a reputation for getting privileged access to the university’s spin-out companies.
  • Huawei has hinted before that it could pour investment into the UK to supplement the business it is losing in the US, whose government has called the company a national security threat and accused it of stealing intellectual property.
  • OSI’s portfolio of companies spans a number of industries, including sensitive areas such as defence, healthcare, artificial intelligence, and manufacturing.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Huawei has bought up millions of shares in a research fund closely linked to the University of Oxford, giving it an insight into cutting-edge British innovation.

The Financial Times reported the news, and representatives for the fund and Huawei confirmed the investment to Business Insider.

Oxford is one of the most prestigious universities in the world. Oxford Sciences Innovation (OSI) isn’t directly connected to the university, but is a large fund dedicated to monetising the research and ideas that come out of it, known as spinouts.

The fund has raised £600 million ($736 million) in four years and counts Google’s venture capital arm GV and Sequoia Capital among its backers.

Records filed at Companies House in the UK show that Huawei bought about 4.1 million shares, which translates to a 0.7% stake in OSI, the FT reported.

Oxford University publicly severed ties with Huawei in January, suspending donations and sponsorships. “The decision has been taken in the light of public concerns raised in recent months surrounding UK partnerships with Huawei,” the university said in a statement at the time.

A Huawei spokeswoman told Business Insider the OSI investment was made in October 2018.

The spokeswoman said: “We understand the importance of research and development and are committed to helping solve some of the world’s biggest challenges. As part of Huawei’s long-term commitment to the UK, we made a small investment in Oxford Sciences Innovation (OSI) in October 2018. We continue to support OSI in its ambition to bring new ideas to the world.”

The investment may raise eyebrows given US allegations that Huawei steals IP from its technology companies – a charge Huawei denies. It has also designated Huawei a security threat and has urged the UK along with its other allies to freeze out the Chinese tech giant.

OSI is well-known among venture capital investors for its privileged access to cutting-edge tech coming out of Oxford. The FT reports that Huawei’s stake in the company will give it access to OSI’s portfolio of companies, which includes companies in artificial intelligence, computation, energy, defence, and health.

Read more: Huawei is trying to sell all its 5G patents to a Western buyer in a bid to placate Trump and dodge national security concerns

An OSI spokesman told Business Insider: “Huawei are a small investor in OSI. They do not have any preferred or special access to our companies or their underlying technology.”

This isn’t the first indication that Huawei is pouring investment into the UK following the US ramping up the pressure on the company.

In an interview with the BBC in February Huawei CEO Ren Zhengfei said the UK could fill the vacuum left by the US. “We will invest even more in the UK. Because if the US doesn’t trust us, then we will shift our investment from the US to the UK on an even bigger scale,” he said at the time.

Business Insider’s Shona Ghosh revealed last month that Huawei opened a new AI computer vision lab in London, right next door to Facebook and Google.

You can read the Financial Times’ full report here.