Good morning, this is Melissa Zhu from the SCMP tech desk in Hong Kong with a quick round-up of our top stories this week. Chinese robotics companies have seen a surge in demand for their products during the coronavirus outbreak, Tracy Qu and Coco Feng reported this week. Robots process data more efficiently and eliminate unnecessary human-to-human contact, thus reducing cross-infections, according to Leo Chen, vice-president of OrionStar. For example, doctors can use machines connected to the internet to remotely attend to patients waiting in public areas of hospitals, and deliver food and medicine directly to patients. “Not many [delivery] people wanted to have contact with confirmed infections or anybody who had close contact with confirmed cases,” said Li Tong, the chief executive of Shanghai-based Keenon Robotics. “If it becomes a matter of life and death I think it is necessary to replace humans with robots.” The pandemic is likely to lead to permanent changes in the way people consume, travel, work, and interact, said Glenn Sanders, a senior analyst at research firm Omdia, formerly IHS Markit. However, analysts say it will take a few more years, if not a decade, before robots become commonplace in medical facilities, as there are short term limiting factors such as supply chain disruptions caused by the pandemic, with most robot suppliers relying on stockpiled inventory to meet demand. “In 10 years, we may see a world where robots are much more common than they are today,” Sanders said. “As companies begin to formulate strategies for future capital expenses, robots and automation will likely be a high priority. Medical facilities will see the need for scalability of resources, and one solution to this is autonomous robots for diagnosis, delivery, and disinfection.” We may get rid of coronavirus, but what about the robots we used to fight it? Huawei’s cybersecurity agenda Entering Huawei Technologies’ cybersecurity transparency centre in Brussels, visitors could be forgiven for thinking it is a large exhibition facility. The ground floor of this two-storey centre is replete with wood laminate flooring and clean white walls rigged with multiple screens, flashing slogans from PowerPoint slides such as “5G is a shared responsibility” and “A strong ecosystem is our best protection”. Zen Soo and Jane Zhang report that the facility, which was opened in March last year, is one of six cybersecurity centres established by Huawei, the world’s largest telecommunications equipment supplier. These centres engage with the Shenzhen-based company’s network operator customers, lawmakers, regulators and the media to show the security of its products. The stakes are high for Huawei to bolster its cybersecurity credentials amid the global roll-out of 5G mobile networks. This has become particularly crucial in Europe, which represents the company’s biggest overseas market – accounting for about 30 per cent of its annual revenue and where a large chunk of its 91 5G network projects as of February are located. Gaining support from major economies, like Germany and the UK, is vital for Huawei to further expand its business on the continent. Ren Zhengfei, founder and chief executive of Huawei, pointed out Europe’s broader importance to the global technology industry in a recent interview with the South China Morning Post . “Europe was the first to set cybersecurity standards, including the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) … When everyone abides by the GDPR, sooner or later cybersecurity won’t be an issue,” Ren said. Much of the GDPR, which took effect on May 25, 2018, is lifted directly from the European Union’s legislation on Data Privacy: The Data Protection Directive – regulating the processing of personal data within its member countries – that was adopted in 1995, according to think tank the EUGDPR Institute. “If we can completely meet Europe’s high standards … then our ability to serve humankind will increase significantly,” Ren said. “We believe the global community will reach a consensus on cybersecurity and privacy protection.” Huawei puts cybersecurity on show as opponents circle Patently obvious? Huawei has also recently been in the news for filing the most number of patent applications – a whopping 4,411 – among Chinese companies last year, according to our reporter Josh Ye . The World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) recently reported that the number of filings by China under the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) totalled 58,990 last year, compared with 57,840 from the US. The UN agency also highlighted that China’s figure was a 200-fold increase in just 20 years. But while China may have overtaken the US in total number of international patents filed last year, legal experts warn that much of the growth is being fuelled by state-backed subsidies that could flood the system with cheap patents. A study by JZMC Patent and Trademark Law Office and Bloomberg in 2018 found that less than a quarter of new domestic patents in China were new inventions, with the rest being design and utility patents. Further, nearly 91 per cent of new design patents wound up being discarded in five years because patent owners apparently deemed them not worthy of renewal. Another indication that Chinese patents are deemed less valuable than those in Japan or the US is that they receive fewer citations by non-Chinese researchers, according to Naubahar Sharif, associate professor of public policy at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. In response to the huge numbers of low value domestic patents, the Shanghai government last year raised the maximum annual subsidy for international patent filings from 1 million yuan (US$142,000) to 10 million yuan. Shanghai’s new policy has also cut subsidies for design and utility patents altogether. The Beijing government adopted a similar approach in the same year. A PCT patent filer is now entitled to as much as 20 million yuan in subsidies versus 2 million for a domestic patent. Chinese subsidies fuel surge in patents but experts warn of quality issue That’s all for this week!