11 June 2015
The EPO today presented the European Inventor Award 2015 in the heart of Paris. The prestigious annual award, now in its 10th year, honours outstanding inventors who through their work have made an exceptional contribution to social development, technological progress and economic growth. More than 400 guests from the worlds of politics, business and academia attended the award ceremony at the Palais Brongniart, the historical Paris stock exchange.
The international jury had selected 15 finalists from more than 300 individuals and inventor teams put forward, and today the winners were crowned in the five categories: Andreas Manz (Switzerland) in the category "Lifetime achievement", Franz Amtmann (Austria) / Philippe Maugars (France) in the "Industry" category, Laura van 't Veer (Netherlands) in "Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs)", Ludwik Leibler (France) in "Research" and Sumio Iijima / Akira Koshio / Masako Yudasaka (Japan) in "Non-European countries". In addition, the Popular Prize went to Scottish-born Australian immunologist Ian Frazer and the late Chinese cancer researcher Jian Zhou, who received the most votes from the public in an online vote.
"The inventors honoured today have contributed immensely to advancing technology. Their inventions improve our everyday lives, create economic value, generate employment and even save lives. The inventiveness and creativity of the award winners highlight Europe's role as a prime technology region for inventors from all over the world. The European patent system provides the appropriate conditions for inventors seeking protection for their inventions in up to 38 member states," said EPO President Benoît Battistelli at the award ceremony.
Andreas Manz (Switzerland) was honoured for the invention of microlab chip technology Thanks to his work it is now possible to conduct complex medical, biological or chemical analyses quickly and efficiently on microchips no bigger than just a few millimetres in size. The pioneer in research on microfluidics therefore paved the way for point-of-care diagnostics now used throughout the world. Another ground-breaking variation of the lab-on-a-chip from Manz is its use for rapid DNA testing for the prevention of hereditary diseases.
Accepting the Award, Mr Manz thanked “everyone in my life,” highlighting the important role that different contributors – and particularly his students - play in innovation.
Franz Amtmann (Austria) and Philippe Maugars (France), together with their teams at Dutch company NXP Semiconductors, received the award for their contribution to the development of Near Field Communication (NFC) - a contact-free, secure technology for data transfer between mobile devices. The invention opens up an almost unlimited range of new possibilities for mobile devices - enabling smartphones, for example, to be used in future as virtual wallets, controls for smart homes, access to secure areas, or as a tool for Industry 4.0 applications. NFC has advanced security on the basis of minimum transmission distances and data encryption.
Mr Amtmann described the Award as one of the “personal highlights of my life”, with Mr Maugars adding that now his friends and family are “starting to understand what we do”.
Laura van 't Veer (Netherlands) was awarded the prize for the invention of a gene-based tissue test which makes it possible to offer targeted treatment for breast cancer. It provides women in the early stage of breast cancer with a reliable prognosis as to whether chemotherapy is actually necessary. The technology has already helped over 40 000 women with treatment for cancer, and means that nowadays 20 to 30 per cent fewer women have to undergo lengthy chemotherapy.
Speaking at the ceremony, she thanked her team and described the satisfaction of turning “research findings into real products for patients”. She said: “I appreciate being able to provide something that provides the most optimal treatment.”
Ludwik Leibler (France) was honoured for the invention of vitrimers: a new class of plastics which has the potential to stem the mountains of plastic waste. The material can be repaired easily and is completely recyclable. In the solid state the new glass-like plastic is stable, but when heated it can be repeatedly shaped and turned into complex objects by welding. Vitrimers therefore offer a lightweight and robust alternative to glass or metals, making them suitable for use in aircraft and vehicle manufacturing, and in the electronics, construction and sports industries.
“I chose to do research because I hoped I would have the freedom to create, work with brilliant people and I would not be constrained. All those wishes were fulfilled,” he told the audience.
Sumio Iijima, Akira Koshio and Masako Yudasaka (Japan) received the award for the ground-breaking discovery of carbon nanotubes, a previously unknown structural form of carbon, and for the development of a sustainable process to produce them. Carbon nanotubes make computers faster, car and aircraft parts more stable, and solar modules more efficient. The manufacturing process developed by the Japanese team of researchers makes it possible to even use carbon nanotubes for cancer treatment in bio-medicine.
Akira Koshio and Masako Yudasaka said they were “simply, simply surprised” at winning and said that they were “very happy to share this award with Professor Iijima,” who was not able to attend the ceremony.
Ian Frazer (Australia) and the late Jian Zhou (China) received the Popular Prize for their invention of the world's first vaccine against cervical cancer. Gardasil is a breakthrough as it protects girls and women from the cancer-causing human papillomavirus (HPV), and has already saved the lives of large numbers of women worldwide. The Popular Prize is decided solely by the public who pick their favourite from among the15 finalists in an online poll. The public's choice was clear this year, with the Australian-Chinese research team receiving more than 32% percent of the 47 000 votes cast online. The total number of votes more than doubled over last year.
Mr Frazer said he was “overwhelmed and delighted to accept the award,” noting that innovation can only move society forward “if translated into practice”. Xiao Yi Sun, widow of the late Jian Zhou, said that she had “mixed emotions” tearfully accepting the award. “It deeply saddens me that Jian can’t be here,” she said.
The European Inventor Award, now in its 10th year, is one of Europe's most prestigious innovation prizes. Launched in 2006, the annual award honours individual inventors and teams of inventors whose pioneering inventions provide answers to some of the biggest challenges of our times. The winners are selected by an independent jury consisting of international authorities in the fields of business, science, academia and research, who examine the proposals in terms of their contribution towards technical progress, social development, wealth and job creation in Europe. The general public also takes part in conferring the award: the winner of the Popular Prize is chosen from among the 15 finalists by online voting.