According to a report out of The Wall Street Journal this afternoon, US federal prosecutors are seeking to file criminal charges against Huawei for theft of trade secrets from several of the company's American business partners in recent years. The most well-known example under consideration by the Department of Justice, according to the Journal, is the infamous case of T-Mobile's "Tappy" smartphone testing robot. T-Mobile sued Huawei for theft of trade secrets after the latter's employees stole parts from Tappy and attempted unauthorized access to T-Mobile facilities to further spy on the robot's technology. A jury agreed, holding Huawei liable for damages stemming from the incident.

That was over four years ago, though, and hardly seems like the kind of foundation prosecutors would want to be working from making a case against Huawei in 2019. That suggests more such incidents the public isn't aware of are likely to be part of this investigation, and that the DoJ is confident enough that those incidents could lead a jury to convict Huawei on criminal trade secret charges - for which a far higher bar of proof is necessary than in civil court.

Criminal trade secret cases aren't unheard of in the US, but given the current political and economic climate, it seems especially likely that the US is pursuing these charges against Huawei as a way to illuminate transgressions the US government feels have gone unpunished too long. With Huawei's CFO under house arrest in Canada as the US seeks her extradition for an investigation into alleged Huawei dealings in Iran, piling on yet another criminal probe for trade secret theft is going to be a serious slap in the face to an already battered homegrown Chinese brand.

Whatever the outcome, it feels ever more unlikely that Huawei smartphones will come back to the United States - possibly ever.