Earlier this month, one of the most prestigious innovation prizes, the European Inventor Awards were announced at a ceremony in Lisbon. Now in their eleventh year, the awards are presented annually by the European Patent Office (EPO) to recognise exceptional inventors from Europe and around the world who have made an outstanding contribution to social development, technological progress and economic growth. The awards are designed to give inventors the public recognition they deserve, and to incentivise future winners.
There are five categories; Industry, Research, SMEs, Non-European Countries, and Lifetime Achievement. The winners are presented with a trophy in the shape of a sail as “an enduring symbol of exploration and human ingenuity”.
Any member of the public can nominate a person or team for the European Inventor Award, as long as at least one European patent has been granted by the EPO for the invention. This year, nearly 400 proposals were received. 15 finalists — three in each of the five categories — are then selected by an independent jury consisting of international authorities in the fields of business, science, academia and research. The jury evaluates contribution to technical progress and social and economic impact in Europe. 56,700 members of the general public then voted which of the 15 finalists was to get the Popular Prize.
The 2016 winners were:
Industry – German physicists Bernard Gleich, Jürgen Weizenecker and their team, for laying the foundation of a new category of medical imaging solutions; Magnetic Particle Imaging (MPI). This magnet-based imaging method is currently in pre-clinical evaluation.
Research – French physicist and neurosurgeon Alim-Louis Benabid, for revolutionising the treatment of Parkinson’s disease and other neurological conditions with the use of high-frequency deep brain stimulation through a “brain pace-maker”. This is now a global standard and has benefited over 150,000 people to date.
SMEs – The Danish research team of Tue Johannessen, Ulrich Quaade, Claus Hviid Christensen and Jens Kehlet Nørskov, for the revolutionary application of ammonia in solid form to reduce air pollution from diesel engines and act as an emissions-free fuel. It can reduce the amount of harmful emitted NOx (mono-nitrogen oxides; a key component of smog) by up to 99%.
Non-European Countries – US chemical engineer Robert Langer, who invented biodegradable plastic wafers containing powerful anti-cancer drugs that can be implanted at the site of tumours for maximum efficacy. These have been licensed to more than 300 pharmaceutical companies and have already benefited more than one million people globally.
Lifetime achievement – Dutch engineer Anton van Zanten, who pioneered the ESP (Electronic Stability Programme) and other automotive safety solutions whilst at German company Bosch. ESP has saved more than 8,500 lives and prevented more than 2,500,000 accidents in Europe alone, and is a mandatory feature in all new cars weighing up to 3,500kg.
Public Voted Popular Prize – Cambridge University researcher Helen Lee received 64% of the public vote for her instant blood diagnostic kits for developing countries. Her kits are highly cost-effective and easy to use for detection of infectious diseases such as HIV, Hepatitis B and chlamydia.
“Today’s award ceremony is a tribute to the spirit of innovation and the work of dedicated individuals who through their inventions advance the state of the art for all of us,” said EPO President Benoît Battistelli. “The inventions recognised with this year’s award give new hope to people suffering from disease, increase diagnostic efficiency, protect the environment and save thousands of lives on the road. The significance and impact of the work of these inventors underlines the importance of the European patent system for the benefit of economic strength and technological progress in Europe.”
Congratulations to them all!