Exceptional inventors receive European Inventor Award 2016 at ceremony in Lisbon

9 June 2016

Benoît Battistelli and António Costa arrive at the ceremony

The EPO showcased the best and brightest in innovation today at the European Inventor Award 2016 ceremony in Lisbon. Now in its 11th year, the award is presented annually by the EPO to recognise outstanding inventors from Europe and around the world, who have made an exceptional contribution to social development, technological progress and economic growth.

"Today's award ceremony is a tribute to the spirit of innovation and the work of dedicated individuals who through their inventions advance the state of the art for all of us," said EPO President Benoît Battistelli. "The inventions recognised with this year's award give new hope to people suffering from disease, increase diagnostic efficiency, protect the environment and save thousands of lives on the road. The significance and impact of the work of these inventors underlines the importance of the European patent system for the benefit of economic strength and technological progress in Europe," said Mr Battistelli.

Benoît Battistelli greets Carlos Moedas

Nearly 600 guests from the areas of politics, business, intellectual property and science were in attendance at Lisbon's MEO Arena as the EPO President, Portugal's Prime Minister António Costa and European Commissioner for Research, Science and Innovation Carlos Moedas opened the award ceremony.

The 2016 award winners are:

Bernhard Gleich, Jürgen Weizenecker and team

Jürgen Weizenecker and Bernhard Gleich

Germany physicists Bernhard Gleich and Jürgen Weizenecker and their team received the award for laying the foundation for a new category of medical imaging solutions. Developed in the laboratory of Philips Research Hamburg, magnetic particle imaging (MPI) offers real-time images of body tissues in unprecedented quality. Their magnet-based imaging method, currently in pre-clinical evaluation, promises to enable doctors to obtain instant 3D images of tissue complications, including cancers and vascular diseases.

Jürgen Weizenecker said he was “really happy” and “deeply honoured” to accept the award. He thanked “our families for their support and patience” with “sometimes strange scientists”. Bernhard Gleich thanked “all the people who contributed to the success of magnetic particle imaging” and the scientific community “for their valuable contributions. 

Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs)
Tue Johannessen, Ulrich Quaade, Claus Hviid Christensen and Jens Kehlet Nørskov (Denmark)

Tue Johannessen and Ulrich Quaade

The Danish research team received the award for the ground-breaking application of ammonia in solid form to reduce air pollution from diesel engines and act as an emissions-free fuel. Released into the exhaust system of diesel engines, it can reduce the amount of harmful emitted NOx (mono-nitrogen oxides; a key component of smog) by up to 99%. Theirs is a true start-up success story powered by patented inventions.

In his acceptance speech, Tue Johannessen stressed that this was “a big team effort” and thanked the team, the investors and everyone involved. He said “it is really important to keep CO2 levels low”. His colleague Ulrich Quaade thanked “our co-inventors, who are not present today”. 

Alim-Louis Benabid (France)

Alim-Louis Benabid

French physicist and neurosurgeon Alim-Louis Benabid was honoured for revolutionising the treatment of Parkinson's disease and other neurological conditions with the use of high-frequency deep brain stimulation. Based on controlled electric charges administered via a probe implanted into the patient's skull - akin to a "brain pace-maker" -  Benabid's method has become a standard treatment around the world, and has benefited over 150 000 people, who can now lead self-directed, independent lives thanks to the invention.

Accepting the award, Alim-Louis Benabid said: “doing research is a privilege, finding something useful is a privilege, being recognised is a privilege”. He said “only artists and writers are the sole owners of their discoveries. In science, we work together with other scientists and patients” and said the award was dedicated to everyone “who worked with me”. 

Non-European countries
Robert Langer (US)

Robert Langer speaks via video link

US chemical engineer Robert Langer received the award for the ground-breaking invention of biodegradable plastics that encapsulate powerful anti-cancer drugs for a new level of targeted delivery. His bioplastics can be shaped into "wafers" filled with cancer-starving drugs, implanted right above the site of tumours where natural degradation releases the drug for maximum efficacy. Langer's patented inventions have been licensed to more than 300 pharmaceutical companies and have already benefited more than one million people worldwide. The prolific inventor heads a team of over 100 researchers at MIT.

Speaking via a video link, Robert Langer said he had been told that “the ideas are wrong and would never work”. He said it was a “tremendous honour” to receive the award and be in the company of the other nominees. 

Lifetime achievement
Anton van Zanten (Germany/Netherlands)

Anton van Zanten with Prime Minister António Costa and President Benoît Battistelli

Engineer Anton van Zanten was honoured for his landmark contributions to automotive safety systems that have saved thousands of lives and are now mandatory features in new automobiles. Throughout an automotive engineering career with German company Robert Bosch spanning more than 40 years, van Zanten pioneered the electronic stability control (ESC) system and other solutions to prevent automobiles from veering off the road and crashing in extreme braking situations.

Winner Anton van Zanten used his acceptance speech to advocate for stricter car safety laws. “I would like to encourage countries where ESC is not in legislation to put it in and save many lives,” he said. 

Popular Prize
Helen Lee (UK/France)

Helen Lee with the trophy for the Popular Prize

Cambridge University researcher Helen Lee was picked by an overwhelming majority of the public to receive the Popular Prize for her invention of diagnostic kits for resource-poor regions of the globe. Already used to test more than 40 000 people, her robust, instant blood diagnostic kits are cost-effective and easy-to-use for detection of infectious diseases such as HIV, hepatitis B and chlamydia. Lee received more than 36 300 votes, or 64%, of the total record number of 56 700 votes cast online by the public in the five weeks leading up to the award ceremony (up from 46 800 total votes last year). This was by far the highest number of public votes ever received by any European Inventor Award finalist since the launch of the Popular Prize category in 2013.

Helen Lee said: “life is a journey and the journey of Samba has not always been easy” and thanked those who had helped “in choppy waters”. She said, “Our rudder was ‘never give up’ and our direction was to be useful... thanks for putting wind behind our sails. I hope it will bring people to safer shores.” 

About the European Inventor Award

Launched by the EPO in 2006, the annual award distinguishes 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, and 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.

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