24 April 2020
The EPO joins IP offices in Europe and beyond in celebrating World IP Day. The 2020 edition is set against a period of great uncertainty and seemingly insurmountable obstacles. The novel coronavirus has impacted every aspect of life and is likely to continue doing so for the foreseeable future. Climate change remains a growing concern, leaving humankind facing two of its greatest challenges at the same time.
Adversity, however, can bring people together to overcome difficult periods. It can instil a sense of solidarity and also inspire new ideas. For World IP Day 2020, the EPO would like to pay tribute to the innovations as well as some of the inventors driving change.
The emergence of the virus has had profound effects: businesses have had to adopt digital work tools to allow teams to collaborate in remote locations; online learning has become ubiquitous, some automakers, for example, are using their facilities to produce much-needed medical equipment; and research teams worldwide are working tirelessly to develop vaccines and antiretrovirals. Since inception in 2006, several European Inventor Award alumni have pioneered research that has led to life-altering medical treatments or greatly improved medical diagnostics. Today, many of these scientists are leading the charge against the coronavirus.
In 2016, Helen Lee won the European Inventor Award in the Popular Prize category. She invented a diagnostic kit that enables on-the-spot detection of infectious diseases such as HIV and hepatitis B. Initially, the diagnostics kits were aimed at developing regions but since the outbreak, her Samba II testing unit can provide COVID-19 results in 90 minutes, greatly improving upon earlier methods that could only produce results in two days.
Ivars Kalvins, finalist in Lifetime achievement in 2015, has dedicated his career to the improvement of medicine. He led the development of anticancer drugs and currently heads the ARIADNA Scientific Advisory Board. ARIADNA is a platform that uses artificial intelligence to help medical professionals from varying specialisations to more efficiently navigate the issues related to treatment of COVID-19.
Energy production accounts for some 75% of greenhouse gas emissions in the European Union (EU), with manufacturing industries being the biggest energy consumers. The transition to cleaner energy and lower-carbon manufacturing will therefore be increasingly important in climate change mitigation. Several technologies may drive the transition, among them smart grids that enable efficient power management and innovation in energy storage. To reduce greenhouse gas emissions, further development in carbon capture and storage (CCS) will be necessary. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), CCS facilities worldwide currently capture over 35 million tonnes of CO2 each year.
Other industries may play a supporting role through efficient manufacturing processes. For example, 3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing (AM), has the potential to shake up mass production and logistics and in doing so, cut transport emissions, reduce packaging waste, and encourages a “repair culture”. Transport is yet another sector with the potential to contribute to sustainability. Innovations such as self-driving vehicles, truck platooning and smart grids may help ease traffic congestion and therefore cut pollution in usually grid-locked cities.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), animal to human transmission is the most probable cause of the outbreak. Furthermore, WHO research outlines a link between the spread of infectious diseases and climate change. Intellectual property rights therefore provide part of the solution in creating a healthier and more sustainable world. Patents, for example, incentivise the development of technologies by enabling businesses to attract investment and manufacture commercially viable products. At the same time, the patent system itself allows for knowledge transfer. The EPO’s Espacenet database contains 110 million freely accessible patent records, empowering scientists working on green technologies or new medical treatments to leverage existing research in advancing their own solutions.
World IP Day takes places annually on 26 April. Initiated by the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) in 2000, the event aims to increase the understanding of the role of intellectual property rights in encouraging innovation and fostering creativity.