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IP Cases & Commentary – Details

01 August 2012

2012 European Inventor Award - Rewarding Innovation

Cathrine McGowan

The European Inventor Award for 2012 was presented on 14 June 2012. The award, which honours inventors in five categories, was launched by the European Patent Office in 2006 and is organised in conjunction with the European Commission. The award ceremony takes place in the country holding the rotating European Union Council Presidency. This is currently Denmark, so the ceremony was held in the Royal Danish Playhouse in Copenhagen.

The award is intended to reward inventors for their contribution to technological and economic progress, and is considered to be Europe’s most prestigious prize for innovation. Eligible inventors may be of any nationality, but must have been granted at least one valid European patent for their invention. Nominations for the award can be submitted by any person, and are reduced to a short-list of three in each category. The categories are “Industry”, Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs), “Research”, “Non-European countries” and “Lifetime achievement”. This year, the high-profile international jury selected the following winners:

Industry

Jan Tøpholm, Søren Westermann and Svend Vitting Andersen of Danish-based company Widex were recognised for the development of a computer-aided method of manufacturing individually-fitted hearing-aid devices. The technique, known as CAMISHA (Computer-Aided Manufacturing of Individual Shells for Hearing Aids) uses laser-based stereolithography to turn a 3D computer model of a patient’s ear canal into an individual shell or earmould that fits the canal precisely. The invention has immensely improved the fit and comfort of hearing aids, and is used worldwide in the majority of hearing aid devices. The patented technology has helped Widex transform from a small family-owned business into an internationally successful company. 

SMEs

Dr Manfred Stefener, founder of German-based company SFC Energy AG was honoured in the SME category together with Oliver Freitag and Dr Jens Müller. Their invention, patented in 2008, relates to fuel cells for portable use, known as the direct methanol fuel cell (DMFC). The cells, acknowledged as environmentally friendly, are now widely used in many industrial, defence, security and consumer sectors where a portable power supply is beneficial.

Research

Dr Gilles Gosselin, Professor Jean-Louis Imbach and Dr Marti L Bryant received the Research category award. Dr Gosselin and Professor Imbach are from the French National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS). The inventors were recognised for the development of an effective drug for the treatment of hepatitis B. The drug has been successfully commercialised and is hence available for the treatment of a disease that affects 350 million people around the world. Hepatitis B is a chronic complaint that is a hundred times more infectious than HIV, so the health benefits of this invention are clear.

Non-European countries

Inventors from Australia were selected for the first time, in the shape of Dr John O’Sullivan, Graham Daniels, Dr Terence Percival, Diethelm Ostry and John Deane. This team of researchers works at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), which is Australia’s national science agency. The team’s invention made wireless local area networking (W-LAN) faster and more robust so that it could replace cabled networks and become the foundation of today’s popular Wi-Fi networks. CSIRO estimates that the technology is in use in more than three billion devices worldwide. By the time the patent expires in 2013, this figure is expected to exceed five billion.

Lifetime achievement

The accomplishments of Professor Josef Bille from the University of Heidelberg in Germany were rewarded with the Lifetime achievement award. Professor Bille is a pioneer in the field of laser eye surgery, and has filed almost 100 patent applications relating to ophthalmology. His invention of wavefront technology for laser eye surgery allows aberrations in the iris to be accurately mapped in great detail. Precise surgical procedures and tailor-made lens can be implemented from the maps, to correct short-sightedness, long-sightedness and astigmatism.

The lucky winners of the European Inventor Award receive a trophy in the shape of a sail, created by German designer Miriam Irle. The sail represents the pioneering spirit, as one of man’s oldest inventions that has harnessed natural forces to enable travel for millennia. Each year the trophies are made from a different material. Past materials include aluminium, porcelain, synthetic resin, glass, fiberglass concrete and ‘liquid wood’. The 2012 trophies are made from translucent concrete, in which a concrete mass incorporates thousands of optical fibres which absorb incident light and reflect it back to the viewer. One wonders what innovative material will be chosen for the 2013 trophies.

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