EPO awards honour innovation that meets social challenges
By Sophie Mosca | Friday 15 June 2012
The 2012 European Inventor Award ceremony, the seventh sponsored by the European Patent Office (EPO), held in Copenhagen, Denmark, on 14 June, honoured patents with strong economic potential that meet today’s social challenges: mobility, energy savings and innovative medical techniques.
Before an audience of European leaders in the field of intellectual property, gathered at the Royal Danish Playhouse in Copenhagen, the award was presented for inventions in five key categories: industry, SMEs, research, lifetime achievement and non-European countries.
The industry award went to Danish nationals Jan Topholm, Soren Westermann and Svend Vitting Andersen, co-heads of Widex, for their invention of a computer-aided method to manufacture individually fitted hearing aid devices. The SME award was presented to German nationals Manfred Stephner, Oliver Freitag and Jens Müller for their creation of the first fuel cell for portable use. With its low environmental impact, this invention is used in a range of applications, such as traffic management and security and energy systems on ships, for example.
Gilles Gosselin and Jean-Louis Imbach, of France, won the research award for their patents on a medicine that halts or delays the reproduction of hepatitis B, which affects around 350 million people worldwide. In the category of lifetime achievement, Josef Bille of Heidelberg University in Germany was honoured for the 100 or so patents he holds in the field of laser eye surgery that allow precise correction of near-sightedness, far-sightedness and astigmatism.
Australians John O’Sullivan and Terence Percival won the non-European award for their technology that laid the foundation for wireless networking (wifi). Despite competition from the information technology giants, they succeeded in developing patents that constitute standards for almost all wireless networks.
Nearly 150 patents were selected this year by EPO and national examiners, or through unsolicited applications. On the basis of a survey that highlighted the economic impact of each invention, some 15 applications were examined by a jury of distinguished figures from the political and economic sphere, the media, research and academia, who selected three per category and chose the winners. “The European Inventor Award is not focused on the technical aspect of the patent but on economic performance and influence on society,” explained EPO President Benoît Batistelli. “It recognises the creativity and entrepreneurial spirit of inventors who have made a significant contribution to technological progress, social development and economic growth.” He added that the award does not entail any direct pecuniary advantage, but that the public attention brought to the ingenuity of the prize winners has in past years helped some win new contracts and secure means to continue their research.
Batistelli pointed out that the EPO is the world’s leading patent office and that its aim is to bolster innovation by creating in its 38 member countries (of which the EU27) conditions for growth and job creation by issuing legally solid patents.