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. Europe's most prestigious innovation prize will be awarded in five categories on 19 May in Budapest. With their talent for innovation, Europe's inventors benefit society as a whole, says European Patent Office President Benoît Battistelli.
The jury's choice of the finalists promises once more much anticipation about the decision on the five prize winners. The award was launched by the European Patent Office (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. 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.
Again 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 prominent personalities such as 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. It is worth noting that the inventors come from a dozen countries covering nearly every region of Europe. Medical research leads the field, followed by energy technology and then construction engineering, vehicle technology and telecommunications.
"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. At the EPO we set great store by the quality of European patents, giving legal
certainty to patent proprietors, and by publishing all the patent specifications we stimulate further innovation. In that way we bolster the innovative capacity of European industry."
"Harnessing technological creativity for marketable innovation is an essential means of ensuring that Europe remains competitive on the global scene," adds 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."
Nominations by category:
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.