Research institutes


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Last updated: 24.11.2020


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European research institutes: Think tanks inventing a better tomorrow

When it comes to innovative technologies, global corporations and high-tech enterprises may be at the forefront of public attention. But away from the spotlight, universities and research institutes are quietly leading the way in many technical fields. Discover the most important think tanks across Europe, including numerous winners and finalists of the European Inventor Award.

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Did you know?

According to the EPO's 2023 figures, K.U. Leuven, École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne, and Danmarks Tekniske Universitet led the field in terms of patent applications among European institutes of higher education.

    European research institutes: Think tanks inventing a better tomorrow

    They are developing the medicines, "green" technologies and digital gadgets of the future. They employ a host of hundreds of thousands of scientists, transforming research budgets worth billions of Euros into valuable patents and successful products.

    Without a doubt, Europe's universities, technical colleges and private research institutes are international leaders when it comes to innovation. In the year 2018 alone, the European Patent Office (EPO) received more than 2 500 patent applications from 510 institutions of higher education across Europe.

    The growing roster of groundbreaking achievements from European research institutes also includes winners and finalists of the European Inventor Award. Here are some highlights:

    Cambridge: Dedicated to scientific excellence

    The scientific legacy continues at the Cambridge University whose alumni already include luminaries such as Francis Bacon, Isaac Newton and Stephen Hawking. Over 100 staff and alumni have received Nobel prizes and the university is routinely ranked among the top ten learning institutes in the world by multiple university ranking bodies.

    Several researchers from Cambridge University have been recognised at the European Inventor Award:

    Richard Friend, Jeremy Burroughes and Donal Bradley (UK): Polymer Organic Light Emitting Diodes (P-OLED)

    John Daugman (UK): Iris recognition system


    Fraunhofer Society: Think tank built on tradition

    Since its founding in 1949, the German Fraunhofer Society has grown into a powerhouse among European research institutes. It employs over 26 600 people across 72 locations, with an annual research budget of €2.6 billion per year. Their researchers span various technical fields and develop inventions for industrial companies and federal institutions.

    Fraunhofer scientists and researchers are routinely honoured at the European Inventor Award:


      Max Planck: International standout

      Hardly any other European research institute maintains a more pronounced competitive edge on the international market than the German-based Max Planck Society. In 2018, the society headquartered in Munich was ranked third largest contributor to published papers by the Nature Index, which covers 82 leading journals across all sectors.

      Max Planck scientists have been known to push the boundaries of what is scientifically possible. It is little wonder that they are often among the finalists and winners at the European Inventor Award:

      Stefan Hell (Germany): STED microscope

      Ursula Keller (Switzerland): Pioneer in ultra-fast laser technology

      Jens Frahm (Germany): Improved magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)

      Axel Ullrich (Germany): Next-generation cancer treatments and breakthroughs in laboratory genetics

      Thomas Tuschl (Germany): Gene-silencing technique to treat diseases


        Centre national de la recherche scientifique (CNRS): Award-winning innovation

        Never resting on its laurels, the CNRS, which founded in 1939, continues to lead the way as one of Europe's main state-funded research agencies. Headquartered in Paris, the center employs 33 000 specialists with an annual budget of €3.3 billion.

        In addition to numerous Nobel Prizes in chemistry, medicine and physics, the CNRS is also regularly honoured at the European Inventor Award:

        Gilles Gosselin (France): New drug for hepatitis B treatment

        Philippe Cinquin, Serge Cosnier, Chantal Gondran, Fabien Giroud (France): Implantable biofuel cell that runs on glucose

        Bruno Berge (France): Small, resilient liquid lenses

        Sylviane Muller (France): Treating lupus by targeting T-cells


          Catholic University Leuven/Louvain: All eyes on the future

          Founded in 1425, the University of Leuven is the oldest Catholic university in the entire world. But instead of relying on tradition, Leuven has its eyes set firmly on the future, with a constant flow of breakthrough achievements in the medical field. In 2018, researchers at the university in Belgium's Flanders region filed 35 patent applications with the EPO.

          The University is not only held in high regard as a learning institute, but has also featured prominently at the European Inventor Award:

          Erik De Clercq (Belgium): Contributions to antiviral therapy

          Yves Jongen (Belgium): Proton beams to treat cancer

          Joan Daemen (Belgium), Pierre-Yvan Liardet (France) and team: Secure smart-card encryption