- The European Patent Office (EPO) reveals the fifteen inventors short-listed for this prestigious innovation prize: their work has improved our everyday lives and created economic prosperity
- Nominated inventors come from a range of countries and technical fields, from green plastics and oil-spill clean-up, to pharmaceuticals, medical imaging and satellite navigation
- Award ceremony will be held on 15 June 2017 in Venice
- Five of the six prizes will be decided by an international jury. Popular Prize winner to be selected by the general public via online voting
- EPO President Battistelli: "The outstanding inventors nominated for this year's European Inventor Award allow us to honour the men and women who contribute to improving our daily lives. They are among the leading minds of science and research and show that Europe continues to be a world leader in innovation.”
The nominated inventors fight disease, take on some of the most pressing environmental issues and enrich our daily lives.The fifteen finalists for the European Inventor Award 2017, announced today by the European Patent Office (EPO), have strongly contributed to advancing technology and generating economic value and employment in Europe and beyond. With this prestigious annual award, the EPO honours scientists, researchers and engineers in five categories. The inventions, patented at the EPO, have contributed to social development and economic growth.
The 12th edition of the award will be held at the Arsenale in Venice on 15 June. Winners in each category will be announced at the award ceremony attended by high-level representatives of politics, business, research and intellectual property. Once again, the public will select the winner of the Popular Prize by online voting on the EPO’s website in the run-up to the ceremony.
"This year’s finalists demonstrate that Europe continues to be a world leader in innovation. The outstanding inventors nominated for the European Inventor Award allow us to honour the men and women whose ingenious work contributes to the competitiveness of the European economy and improves our daily lives,” said EPO President Benoît Battistelli. “The European patent system remains a pillar for securing Europe’s position as a global marketplace for innovation."
The fifteen finalists were selected by an independent, international jury from a pool of nearly 400 individuals and teams of inventors proposed by the public and by patent examiners of the national patent offices and the EPO for this year's award. The 2017 finalists come from twelve countries: Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Morocco, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the UK and the US.
Their inventions cover a range of technological fields including immunology, environmentally friendly materials, biotechnology, polymers, pharmaceuticals, satellite navigation, natural antimicrobials, mechanics, digital audio compression, high-resolution imagery, industrial fabrication and medical technology.
The 2017 finalists in the five categories are:
Lars Liljeryd (Sweden):
Digital audio compression
Swedish audio engineer Lars Liljeryd's spectral band replication (SBR) is employed in one of the world's most popular MPEG-standardised audio codecs and has helped drive the market for streaming, storing and playing audio files. Thanks to its harmonic redundancy principle – cleverly using low frequency sounds to help reproduce higher-register tones – SBR can reduce audio file size by up to 50% without sacrificing audio quality. Marketed since 2007 by Dolby Laboratories, SBR is found in an estimated six billion devices today, including cell phones, video cameras, televisions and PCs.
Giuseppe Remuzzi, Ariela Benigni, Carlamaria Zoja (Italy):
Treatments for chronic kidney disease
Dialysis is no longer an inevitable fate for hundreds of millions of people with chronic kidney disease (CKD). This is thanks to medical drugs against kidney inflammation and complications from organ transplants developed by Italian nephrologist Giuseppe Remuzzi and fellow researchers Ariela Benigni and Carlamaria Zoja at the Mario Negri Institute for Pharmacological Research in Bergamo. This team's drugs were not only the first ones of their kind to stop the progression of CKD. They have also proven to be powerful tools in poorer countries, where dialysis remains widely unavailable and prevention is key.
Jan van den Boogaart and Oliver Hayden (Netherlands/Austria):
Rapid blood test for malaria
Dutch haematologist Jan van den Boogaart and Austrian biochemist Oliver Hayden developed the world's first automated, computer-based blood test for malaria. Instead of looking for the presence of malaria pathogens in the blood through the microscope, their technique relies on a combination of 30 blood parameters to create a "data fingerprint" that rapidly identifies malaria with almost full certainty. Through the effective combination of two scientific fields, their test helps tilt the scales in the fight against one of the world’s ten deadliest diseases.
Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs)
Gert-Jan Gruter (Netherlands):
Plant-based plastic bottles
Dutch chemist Gert-Jan Gruter and his team at Avantium developed a new manufacturing method using plant starches to produce recyclable plastic bottles – for the first time making such bioplastics economically viable on a commercial scale. Besides offering better material characteristics than traditional petroleum-based products, Gruter's PEF (polyethylene furanoate) bottles require about 70% less energy during production than traditional polymers, and are a major step forward inreducing the environmental impact of plastics. PEF has already attracted the attention of major food and beverage companies.
Günter Hufschmid (DE):
Super-sponge for oil spills
Thanks to its remarkable ability to adsorb close to seven times its own weight in hydrophobic liquids, a novel micronised wax, developed by Günter Hufschmid and his team at the German company Deurex, might be a game changer for oil and chemical spill mitigation. Marketed under the brand name "Pure", this wax leaves no chemical residues behind and is reusable after being wrung out. Pure has already seen use in the heavily contaminated Niger Delta and in cleaning up residential heating oil spills in Germany.
Steve Lindsey (UK):
Energy-saving rotary air compressor
The field of air compression had witnessed few advances since the development of the piston compressor in the 1930s. Now, Steve Lindsey at the UK firm Lontra has created a breath of fresh air: a mechanically-elegant, efficient rotary compressor that can cut energy requirements by up to 20%. This is significant, given that air compressors account for some 10% of Europe’s overall industrial electricity use. Lindsey's Blade Compressor has proved itself in a British waste water treatment facility, and with the support of engineering firms will help save energy in application areas including water purification and automated packaging.
Hans Clevers (Netherlands):
Lab-grown human organs (organoids)
Dutch molecular geneticist Hans Clevers and a team at the University Medical Center (UMC) in Utrecht have developed tiny artificial organs, known as "organoids", which are grown from the cells of individual patients and allow doctors to test the specific effects of drugs safely outside the body. The forward-looking Clevers envisions replicating entire organs for transplant; his organoids already have applications in personalised medicine and drug testing, offering hope for patients for better treatments while helping shave hundreds of thousands of euros off costs for some patients.
Laurent Lestarquit, José Ángel Ávila Rodríguez and team (France, Spain, Germany and Belgium):
Radio signals for better satellite navigation
The signalling technologies developed by this multinational group of scientists and engineers help ensure that Europe's Galileo global navigation satellite system (GNSS) offers extremely high positioning accuracy, within a few centimetres for a growing range of applications. The team's work also builds the framework for Galileo’s cross compatibility with the two current systems, US-led GPS and Russia's GLONASS, and supports a wealth of features that will make Galileo the world's most advanced GNSS when it becomes fully operational in 2020.
Sylviane Muller (France):
Treating lupus by targeting T-cells
French immunologist Sylviane Muller at the National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS) pioneered the first treatment of its kind for the autoimmune disease known as systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). Muller identified so-called CD4 T-cells as the main trigger behind lupus, and she discovered and synthesised a molecule which halts the progression of the disease, without supressing the body's immune system as other treatments do. Muller’s innovations led to the development of the drug Lupuzor, which will be marketed through her start-up company ImmuPharma with an expected launch in 2018.
James G. Fujimoto, Eric A. Swanson and Robert Huber (USA/Germany):
High resolution medical imaging (OCT)
The optical coherence tomography (OCT) technology developed by these two US engineers and German physicist allows doctors a crucial look at soft body tissue and blood vessels without invasive probing or surgical biopsies. Now a standard in ophthalmology, OCT technology has given doctors a new tool to diagnose serious eye diseases at early, treatable stages, preventing vision loss and serious complications in countless cases. OCT's applications have been expanded to a range of cardiovascular, dermatological and gastrointestinal uses.
Waleed Hassanein (USA):
Sustaining transplant organs
Making sure that life-saving donor organs are available for their recipients is the mission of US heart surgeon Waleed Hassanein, developer of the Organ Care System (OCS). OCS extends the time window in which donated organs can be transported and transplanted by replicating human body-like conditions, instead of chilling the organs on ice. Because up to 65% of donor hearts cannot be transplanted due to the limitations of existing cold-storage transport techniques, OCS promises to make a big difference.
Adnane Remmal (Morocco):
Boosting antibiotics with essential oils
With his eyes on the growing problem of multi-drug-resistant (MDR) bacteria, Moroccan biotechnology professor Adnane Remmal has increased the efficacy of antibiotics used to treat bacterial infections by using the medicinal properties of local plants. Remmal's newly developed drug has been shown to fight moderately and highly-resistant bacteria better than standard antibiotics, without side effects and resistance build-up. It could help slow the spread of MDR bacteria and the rate at which new antibiotics need to be developed.
Elmar Mock (Switzerland):
Swatch, ultrasound welding and more
As the co-inventor of the world's best-selling timepiece, the Swatch, Elmar Mock developed an ultrasonic plastic welding technique that not only helped streamline this watch's production but formed the basis of offshoot applications including "welding" wood, concrete and even human bone. Mock used these applications as a catalyst to form his company, Creaholic, which provides innovative technological solutions to over 200 clients and has generated a number of successful spin-offs in fields ranging from medical technology to water conservation.
Rino Rappuoli (Italy):
Novel vaccines by gene analysis
Italian microbiologist Rappuoli pioneered so-called "conjugate vaccines" that launched a new generation of immunisations, administered to hundreds of millions worldwide. Rappuoli's techniques forever changed vaccine design, including a process known as "reverse vaccinology" used to create the world's first genome-derived vaccines in 1999. Many of Rappuoli's vaccines have become standard immunisations, against a large number of infections including meningitis, diphtheria, whooping cough and helicobacter.
Axel Ullrich (Germany):
Stopping cancer at the root
Our scientific understanding of the genetic and cellular causes of cancer and other diseases owes a great deal to the contributions of German molecular biologist Axel Ullrich. Ullrich developed a new generation of drugs, including breast-cancer drug Herceptin and "tumour starving" Sunitinib, that stop cancer by disrupting cellular communication processes. He also spearheaded the field of genetic research for targeted therapies. This burgeoning field has already identified roughly 1 800 disease genes and spawned more than 2 000 genetic tests.