They have found innovative ways to tackle health issues, reduce pollution, boost alternative energies and equip us with technology for the digital age. The 15 finalists for the European Inventor Award 2018, announced by the European Patent Office (EPO), have all made significant contributions to advancing technology, generating economic value and creating employment in Europe and throughout the world. With its prestigious annual award, the EPO honours outstanding scientists, researchers and engineers in five categories: Industry, Research, Non-EPO countries, SMEs and Lifetime achievement.
The Award winners will be announced on 7 June in Paris, Saint-Germain-en-Laye, at a ceremony attended by representatives from the worlds of politics, business, industry, research and intellectual property. 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.
“The 2018 Award finalists demonstrate that Europe continues to be a world leader in innovation,” said EPO President Benoît Battistelli. “The creativity and ingenuity of these women and men helps to improve our daily lives and boosts the competitiveness of the economy. They open up new opportunities, enrich our lives and propose solutions to some of the most pressing issues we face. By supporting the work of these inventors, the European patent system remains a pillar for strengthening Europe’s position as one of the world’s most innovative markets.”
The 15 finalists were selected by an independent, international jury from a pool of more than 500 individuals and teams of inventors, a new record number, proposed by the public, by patent examiners of national patent offices and the EPO. This year, the finalists – six of whom are women inventors – come from 13 countries: Brazil, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands, Poland, Russia, Sweden, Switzerland, the UK and the US.
Their inventions cover a wide range of technological fields including biotechnology, microchip lithography, automotive, toys and games, medical imaging and technology, renewable energy, material sciences, lasers and electronics.
The 2018 finalists in the five categories are:
Erik Loopstra (Netherlands) and Vadim Banine (Netherlands/Russia):
EUV lithography for smaller, more powerful microchips
The next generation of smaller, faster, more efficient microchips will contain switches of just 7 nanometres in size and smaller. To create these tiny features, chipmakers are turning to extreme ultraviolet light lithography (EUVL), a technology developed by Erik Loopstra and Vadim Banine and their team at Dutch chip-machine manufacturer ASML. Launched to market in 2017, their EUVL machine developed together with German optics company ZEISS will help create new microchips that are vital to fields such as electronics, robotics, autonomous driving and artificial intelligence.
Gaute Munch, Erik Hansen and team (Denmark):
LEGO programmable robots
For over 20 years the robot construction kits developed by this Danish team at toymaker LEGO® have taught millions of users of all ages the fundamentals of computer programming, robotics and interactive problem-solving. Used also in classrooms and in school programmes around the world, the programmable toys are designed to foster computer programming literacy and could help avert a European shortage of skilled programmers in the near future.
Agnès Poulbot and Jacques Barraud† (France):
Auto-regenerating tyre tread
Two experts at Michelin developed tyres that last 20% longer and save one litre of fuel every 100 kilometres travelled. The solution created by Agnès Poulbot and Jacques Barraud consists in layering tyre treads on top of each other, so that as one tread wears out a fresh one is revealed. Marketed as the RegenionTM tyre technology for heavy vehicles since 2013 and passenger cars since 2016, the patented design results in some 3 700 kg fewer CO2 emissions per tyre lifespan compared to conventional models.
Jens Frahm (Germany):
Faster, real-time MRI
Thanks to Jens Frahm, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is one of medicine’s most widely adopted diagnostic tools. The German biophysicist developed the fast low angle shot (FLASH) technique that accelerated MRI scans by a factor of 100 so it can be used in clinical everyday practice today. He has since brought MRI to the video age by giving the technology the ability to capture moving images of organs and joints in real-time and extend MRI’s diagnostic potential.
Eileen Ingham and John Fisher CBE (United Kingdom):
Donor tissue without rejection
This British husband-and-wife research team invented “biological scaffolds” – donor tissue stripped of nearly all its original DNA and cells that can be colonised by the recipient’s cells without provoking immune rejections. Developed during more than ten years of research at Leeds University, Ingham and Fisher’s decellurisation method is opening up new possibilities for regenerative medicine. It has already been employed for wound care treatment and heart valve replacements as well as for other orthopaedic and surgical applications.
Jacek Jemielity, Joanna Kowalska, Edward Darżynkiewicz and team (Poland):
Stabilising messenger RNA
The development of more stable messenger ribonucleic acid (mRNA) compounds by this Polish research team offers an improved delivery system for personalised medicine therapies without having to alter a patient’s DNA. By changing just one of mRNA’s roughly 80 000 atoms, they obtained a robust form of mRNA that is five times more effective than its natural counterpart. Their work is already incorporated into a promising cancer vaccine and has attracted over €1 billion in licensing deals.
Stephen Dewar (Canada), Philip Watts (United States/Canada) and Frank Fish (United States):
Turbines and fans inspired by whales
Inspired by the bumpy leading-edge of humpback whales’ flippers, this team of a biologist, aeronautical engineer and inventor/entrepreneur has developed a novel blade concept for wind turbines and fans that is more efficient and quieter than traditional designs. Equipped with 3D “tubercle” bumps, their blades have challenged precepts of low-speed aerodynamics. They now give industrial fans a 25% increase in air circulation and boost wind turbine power production by one fifth.
Alex Kipman (Brazil):
HoloLens: mixed reality smart glasses
The inventor behind Microsoft’s record-selling Xbox game system has adapted its motion controller along with state-of-the-art hardware to create “mixed-reality” glasses known as the HoloLens. The computer-powered headset blends the virtual and real worlds in the eyes of the wearer. It is already powering applications ranging from holographic teleconferencing to surgical operations. According to the inventor, such mixed-reality devices could even make cell phones obsolete in the future.
Esther Sans Takeuchi (United States):
Batteries to reset the heart
Chemical engineer Esther Sans Takeuchi invented the compact batteries that power tiny implantable cardiac defibrillators (ICDs). Used by millions of patients, ICDs greatly reduce incidence of heart attack by delivering life-saving shocks. Yet when first developed, the challenge was to find batteries small enough to power ICDs with a long enough life to reduce the frequency of surgeries that heart patients had to undergo for battery replacement. The Li/SVO battery was the perfect solution, and it is just one of Sans Takeuchi’s 150 patents, making her one of the US’s most prolific women inventors.
Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs)
Mehrdad Mahdjoubi (Sweden):
A space-travel inspired shower developed by industrial designer Mehrdad Mahdjoubi uses 80% less energy and 90% less water by repeatedly recycling the same 5 litres of water per shower. Originally conceived when Mahdjoubi was working on a collaboration with NASA’s “Journey to Mars” project, the shower’s high-tech ensures its water is purer than from the tap. It offers significant advantages in regions where water supply is limited or in gyms, hospitals and public pools, which see high shower usage.
Jane ní Dhulchaointigh and team (Ireland):
Sugru: multi-purpose mouldable glue
Irish product designer Jane ní Dhulchaointigh and her team have developed malleable multi-purpose glue that can repair and customise everyday objects. Formable into nearly every conceivable shape and able to stick to just about anything, the glue sets as a hard, durable rubber. Sugru gives people a hands-on approach to repair broken items and cuts down on the tremendous amount of waste that is discarded each year.
Thomas Scheibel (Germany):
Artificial spider silk
One of the strongest materials known, yet lightweight and supple, spider silk has long intrigued materials scientists, but proven extremely difficult to replicate or produce. German biochemist Thomas Scheibel developed an artificial silk fibre that is many times stronger than steel and conventional synthetic fibres. The spider silk proteins are produced by bacteria then “spun” into a fibre in a process that took years to perfect. The fibre is already finding its way into bio-tolerable medical implants, textiles and cosmetics.
Ursula Keller (Switzerland):
Ultrafast pulsed lasers
Swiss physicist Ursula Keller developed the SESAM mirror, the leading technology for commercial ultrafast lasers used in numerous industrial and medical applications. Over a 30-year career, she has continued to advance laser science through more compact, efficient and powerful designs that open up new possibilities in fields from telecommunications to medical diagnostics. Her attoclock laser – one of the world’s most sensitive timepieces – even helps unlock mysteries of quantum physics.
Jacques Lewiner (France ):
Smoke alarm, internet connections, secure key cards and many more
Hundreds of inventions – from electronics and medical sensors to security and telecommunications – can be credited to prolific French physicist and entrepreneur Jacques Lewiner. Named on nearly 70 granted European patents and some 1 000 patent applications worldwide, he has specialised in transforming science and technology into real-world technical applications. He has launched numerous start-ups and continues to promote innovation as the Dean of Innovation and Entrepreneurship at PSL Université Paris.
Henrik Stiesdal (Denmark):
Offshore wind farms
A true pioneer in the wind power industry, Henrik Stiesdal has been part of the wind revolution since he first designed a wind turbine for his family’s farm as a teenager. He went on to develop the “Danish concept”, which became the industry standard in wind turbine construction for decades. His rich legacy of contributions covers everything from blade designs to offshore mooring platforms and is protected by more than 90 European patents. He is now exploring other green energy solutions.
About the European Inventor Award
The European Inventor Award is one of Europe’s most prestigious innovation prizes. Launched by the EPO in 2006, it honours individual inventors and teams of inventors whose pioneering inventions provide answers to some of the biggest challenges of our times. The finalists and winners are selected by an independent jury consisting of international authorities from the fields of business, politics, science, academia and research who examine the proposals for their contribution towards technical progress, social development, economic prosperity and job creation in Europe. The 2018 award ceremony will take place on 7 June in, Paris, Saint-Germain-en-Laye. The public is invited to take part in conferring one of the awards: the winner of the Popular Prize is chosen from among the 15 finalists by online voting on the EPO website in the run-up to the ceremony. Voting is open until 3 June 2018.
About the EPO
With 6 800 staff, the European Patent Office (EPO) is one of the largest public service institutions in Europe. Headquartered in Munich with offices in Berlin, Brussels, The Hague and Vienna, the EPO was founded with the aim of strengthening co-operation on patents in Europe. Through the EPO’s centralised patent granting procedure, inventors are able to obtain high-quality patent protection in up to 44 countries, covering a market of some 700 million people. The EPO is also the world’s leading authority in patent information and patent searching.
Source: European Patent Office (EPO)