Fifteen scientists and entrepreneurs have been nominated for the European Inventor Award (EIA), which is granted annually by the European Patent Office (EPO) to outstanding inventors for their contribution to technological, social and economic progress. The winners of the 2012 EIA will be announced during an award ceremony in Copenhagen on 14th June. The fifteen finalists cover the fields of medical technology and medicine, telecommunications, wastewater treatment, battery recycling, energy storage and environment, clothing, laser technology, railway manufacturing and construction. They originate from seven European and two non-European countries.
The EIA is presented in five categories: "Industry", "Research", "Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs)", "Non-European countries", and "Lifetime achievement". From almost two hundred inventors and teams who were originally nominated, fifteen finalists have been selected by an international jury comprising leading personalities from industry, science, politics and media.
EPO President Benoît Battistelli said: "Patents play a key role in stimulating innovation, in securing jobs and advancing society. Behind every invention, there are men and women, driven by the passion of discovery, to whom the European Patent Office would like to pay tribute. They are the true heroes of the 21st century economy."
Nominees in the "Lifetime achievement" category
The three finalists in the "Lifetime achievement" category come from Austria, Germany and Italy.
The Austrian engineer and entrepreneur, Dr. Josef Theurer, has filed for some 1,050 patent families throughout his life, while establishing one of the most successful international companies in Austria, Plasser & Theurer - the world market leader for railway track-laying machines.
Prof. Josef Bille from the University Heidelberg in Germany has filed almost 100 patents in the field of ophthalmology and is considered the "father" of laser eye corrections. Prof. Bille's ground-breaking invention of laser eye surgery (LASIK) has corrected near-sightedness, far-sightedness, and astigmatism for millions of patients worldwide.
The third nominee is Italian entrepreneur Mario Moretti Polegato, founder of the company GEOX. Polegato's determination to find a better solution to smelling feet has led to an improved vapour-permeable shoe that turned the footwear industry on its head.
Nominees in the "Industry" category
Finalists in the "Industry" category come from Germany, the Netherlands and Denmark.
Together with Dr. Klaus Hallermayer at Roche Diagnostics, the German cardiologist Prof. Hugo Katus has developed a new blood test which revolutionised the diagnosis of heart attacks - currently the leading cause of death worldwide. The so-called Troponin T antibody test brought a new level of accuracy to the detection of heart diseases and has become the "gold standard" for cardiologists worldwide.
Dr. Jaap Haartsen from the Netherlands invented Bluetooth while at LM Ericsson Telephone. Used in more than two billion devices worldwide, Bluetooth has changed not only the way electronic devices communicate with each other, but also how people connect and communicate.
The Danish team of Jan Tøpholm, Søren Westermann and Svend Vitting Andersen has developed a computer-aided method to manufacture individually-fitted, comfortable hearing-aid devices. The unique stereo-lithographic manufacturing method is known as CAMISHA (Computer-Aided Manufacturing of Individual Shells for Hearing Aids), and it revolutionised the hearing aid world immediately.
Nominees in the "Research" category
The three teams in the "Research" category come from the UK and Australia, France, and the Netherlands.
Prof. Jason Chin (UK) and Prof. Oliver Rackham (Australia) created a way to incorporate unnatural amino acids into proteins, enabling molecular biologists to control and elucidate the functions of proteins in cells with unprecedented precision. Their ground-breaking invention has the potential to revolutionise the way patients are treated in protein-like therapeutics, such as insulin treatment, as well as to detect prostate, ovarian, and colon cancer.
One hundred times more infectious than HIV, hepatitis B is a particularly recalcitrant disease that each year affects 350 million people chronically worldwide, and has proven resistant to most treatments - until Dr. Gilles Gosselin, Prof. Jean-Louis Imbach and Dr. Martin L. Bryant (France) developed a drug that is more effective than any other of its kind. The drug has been successfully commercialised.
Prof. Mark van Loosdrecht, Dr. Merle Krista de Kreuk and Dr. Joseph Heijnen (The Netherlands) invented an advanced wastewater treatment technology which uses aerobic granular biomass and is already in commercial application. The so-called NEREDA process reduces nitrogen and phosphate levels by 95% without relying on extra chemicals.
Nominees in the "Small & Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs)" category
The three entrepreneurs and teams in the "SMEs" category come from Germany and France.
Dr. Manfred Stefener (Germany), founder of Smart Fuel Cell AG (SFC), Oliver Freitag and Dr. Jens Müller created the first fuel cell for portable use, the so-called direct methanol fuel cell or DMFC. Today SFC's fuel cells are used in a vast array of applications including traffic management, security and surveillance systems, as well as powering isolated environmental data stations. SFC has sold more than 24,000 fuel cells since it was founded in 2000.
A passionate yachtsman and former three-time winner of the Admirals Cup, Dr. Stefan Lehnert (Germany), aimed at improving his sails, which resulted in the development of ETFE- (Ethylene-Tetrafluoroethylene) based roof and cladding solutions. These cladding systems, based on plastic cushions filled with air, have since pushed the boundaries of architecture and allowed the creation of highly innovative structures such as the Eden Project in England or the Beijing National Aquatics Centre in China.
The French scientists Dr. Farouk Tedjar and Jean-Claude Foudraz have developed a novel solution to recycle lithium-ion batteries and recover 98% of the valuable metals they contain. Discarding these rechargeable batteries creates a huge amount of waste: about 180,000 to 200,000 tonnes per year in Europe alone.
Nominees in the "Non-European countries" category
In the "Non-European countries" category the three finalists come from the USA and Australia.
Self-taught American scientist and social entrepreneur Dr. Stanford Ovshinsky developed NiMH batteries, which offer a clean-energy storage solution with record durability and double to triple the capacity of nickel-cadmium batteries of the same size. They have proven to be the battery of choice when it comes to the portable electronic device market. Stanford Ovshinsky dedicated his life to research and innovation and holds more than 400 patents to his name.
Prof. Federico Capasso (USA), Prof. Jérôme Faist (Switzerland) and team invented the so-called Quantum Cascade Lasers (QCLs), which are able to reach areas of the electromagnetic spectrum previously untouched by laser light. Today, the ability of QCLs to produce wide bandwidths, high brightness, and high power very efficiently from a compact source has resulted in an array of unique products, from hand-held sensors for explosives detection and other toxic chemicals, to more powerful radar systems.
Dr. John O' Sullivan, Graham Daniels, Dr. Terence Percival, Diethelm Ostry and John Deane (Australia) created a technology that made the wireless LAN fast and robust so it could be as powerful as the cabled solutions of the time, which led to today's wireless networking technology (Wi-Fi).
About the European Inventor Award (EIA)
Launched in 2006, the European Inventor Award is presented annually by the EPO, in co-operation with the European Commission and the country which holds the EU Council Presidency at the time of the award ceremony, which this year is Denmark. The award honours inventive individuals and teams whose pioneering work provides answers to the challenges of our age and thereby contributes to progress and prosperity. Nomination proposals are submitted by the public and by patent examiners at the EPO and Europe's national patent offices. The finalists and, subsequently, the winners are chosen from among the nominees by a high-profile international jury, which includes prominent personalities from politics, business, media, science, academia and research.
For more information, visit: www.epo.org/news-issues/european-inventor.html
Whether high-stability deformable concrete, adjustable spectacle lenses, water purification with ultraviolet light, highly efficient biomass combustion, transmission amplifiers for optical fibre cables or methods for diagnosing Alzheimer's genes: the fifteen nominations for the European Inventor Award 2011 cover a vast span of pioneering technological solutions.
"The nominations for the European Inventor Award 2011 are a positive proof that European enterprises can hold their own with cutting-edge products in a wide range of fields," says EPO President Benoît Battistelli.
"The inventions that have been nominated owe much of their commercial success to the rational exploitation of European patents. With the revenue from their patents, companies are able to invest billions in research and development year after year. This investment in turn works to the benefit of society as a whole."
"Harnessing technological creativity for marketable innovation is an essential means of ensuring that Europe remains competitive on the global scene," said EU Internal Market and Services Commissioner Michel Barnier. "In some expanding fields, clean energy for example, Europe is a world leader, but in others it has room for improvement."
"Inventors are key figures in our knowledge society. They secure and create millions of jobs, making a major contribution to Europe's economic future. One of the EU's key duties is establishing the right framework to ensure the long-term innovative capacity of inventive enterprises. The EU patent will be a clear step in that direction, helping to make the European patent system simpler and more transparent," he said.
A large number of proposals were submitted to the EPO and had to undergo rigorous examination on formal and legal criteria. From those that passed, the high calibre international jury, including European Parliament President Jerzy Buzek, selected the fifteen finalists, the key factors in its choice being technical content, economic impact and social relevance of the inventions.
Prizes in five categories - Industry, Research, Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs), Non-European countries and Lifetime achievement - will be presented at the award ceremony in Budapest on 19 May.
The award was launched by the EPO in 2006 with the support of the European Commission (EC). This year, the EPO, again supported by the EC, is joined by the Hungarian EU Council Presidency in the organisation of the event.
Ann Lambrechts, Bekaert (Belgium): Thanks to her invention, there's a new look to the urban landscape: the Dramix steel fibres that she developed greatly increase the tensile strength of concrete, giving greater design freedom to the world's architects. Many spectacular new structures could not have been built without her work.
Stéphane Kemkemian, Pascal Cornic, Jean-Paul Artis and Philippe Lacomme, Thales Systèmes Aéroportés (France): Their radar-based adaptive cruise control system greatly reduces the number and severity of road collisions, making a major contribution to improved road safety.
Petr Korba and Mats Larsson, ABB Research (Switzerland): Power blackouts frequently entail huge economic losses and can even cost human lives. A smart protection system for early detection of power system oscillations prevents disasters like these, even in large-scale power grids.
Leigh Canham, pSiMedica, QinetiQ (United Kingdom): The use of tiny silicon implants with nano-sized pores (BioSilicon) allows for the targeted delivery of medicinal and therapeutic agents directly into tumours (brachytherapy).
Jens Dall Bentzen, Dall Energy Aps (Denmark): His special low-emission furnace burns biofuels with a moisture content of up to 60% and so is ideal for eco-friendly, highly efficient and hence inexpensive power generation from biomass in factories and production plants.
Béla Molnár and team, 3DHistech (Hungary): The marriage of traditional microscopy and digital image processing resulted in a virtual 3D microscope which enables doctors and even remote experts to perform rapid diagnosis of a scanned tissue sample.
Mart Min and team, Tallinn University of Technology (Estonia): His new method for measuring electrical impedance, which improves the analysis of materials and objects ranging from blood vessels (bioimpedance) to power supplies in space satellites, has above all made it far easier to diagnose heart disease and thus has already saved many lives.
Christine Van Broeckhoven, Vlaams Interuniversitair Instituut voor Biotechnologie (Belgium): Her pioneering technology for identifying disease genes in Alzheimer's sufferers paved the way to the development of modern drugs and treatments to combat Alzheimer's disease.
Joshua Silver (United Kingdom): According to the WHO, uncorrected vision problems are responsible for production losses amounting to around EUR 121 billion a year. Soon it could cost just a dollar to correct them, thanks to spectacles that wearers can easily adjust to their eyesight. They are already being worn by 30 000 people in the world's poorest countries.
Per-Ingvar Brånemark (Sweden): He is one of the pioneers of osseointegration, now a widely practised form of dental treatment based on titanium implants. It creates a stable connection between the implant and the living bone and today is a standard technique among dentists.
Blanka Ríhová (Czech Republic): A doctor of microbiology, she devised a new and mild form of chemotherapy which targets cancer cells with a mixture of cytotoxins and antibodies while sparing healthy cells. At the same time it stops new tumour cells developing and stimulates the immune system.
Emmanuel Desurvire (France): His trailblazing work on optical fibre communications led to secure high-speed mass data transmission. The key to his invention was the use of erbium to amplify light signals, which improved the data transfer rate by a factor of 100. Today this technology is the global standard for optical fibre telecommunication networks, and without it the internet with its current bandwidth would be inconceivable.
Gavriel Iddan, Given Imaging (Israel): A minuscule high-power camera packed into a tiny capsule launched a new era in endoscopy. Over an eight-hour diagnostic period it takes more than 50 000 images, recording the entire digestive tract in a 140° field of vision.
Alexander Gorlov, Northeastern University (USA): Gorlov's water turbine is capable of generating around 90 gigawatts of power from flowing water. It features a vertically suspended wheel that rotates twice as fast as conventional turbine wheels. It delivers electrical power even in very shallow and sluggish water, and in Korea for example it already supplies power to entire towns.
Ashok Gadgil, Vikas Garud, University of California/Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, WaterHealth International (USA/India): They designed a light and handy device using ultraviolet light to disinfect water. It has already proved its worth in disaster zones and in poor regions with drinking water problems.
Further information: European Inventor Award