Press release | 24.4.2018
Munich, 24 April 2018 - Few individuals are as prolific as French inventor, physicist and entrepreneur Jacques Lewiner. The 74-year-old has authored well over 500 patent applications worldwide and has received nearly 70 granted European patents. With inventions in the fields of electronics, medical sensors, security and telecommunications, the scope of Lewiner's interests is nearly as broad as his inventions are numerous. The common denominator however, is his ability to draw from cutting-edge science and technology - often connecting several disparate fields - to find practical solutions for everyday problems.
For his achievements, Jacques Lewiner has been nominated as one of three finalists for the European Inventor Award 2018 in the category "Lifetime achievement". The winners of this year's edition of EPO's annual innovation prize will be announced at a ceremony in Paris, Saint-Germain-en-Laye, on 7 June 2018.
"By dedicating his life to building a bridge between science and industry, Jacques Lewiner embodies the ideal of the archetypal innovator," said EPO President Benoît Battistelli announcing the European Inventor Award 2018 finalists. "He is devoted to helping fellow researchers and students from Europe and around the globe follow in his footsteps and transform their research into real world applications that help improve society as a whole."
Born in 1943 in Vic-sur-Cère, a small village in south-central France, Lewiner's penchant for innovation manifested itself at a young age already. As a boy, he conducted various experiments in the family garden, in the process devising an alarm system so he would be alerted in advance to would-be "approachers". After earning his PhD in physics from the University of Paris, Lewiner first taught abroad at the Catholic University of America, in Washington D.C., specialising in the study of the electrical properties of solid matter. He then returned to Paris in 1968 to work as a research associate with the French National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS). By 1973, when he was only 30 years old, Lewiner was appointed as professor in charge of the electromagnetism chair at the prestigious École supérieure de physique et de chimie industrielles de la ville de Paris (ESPCI Paris). In 1982 he was joined by Georges Charpak who obtained the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1992. It was at ESPCI Paris where he acquired his insatiable taste for inventing, filing his first patent in 1970, with many more to come.
"When I was younger, this was a little bit of a problem," Lewiner says. "I would come home and tell my wife I had come up with another invention and she would almost faint. Back then, a lot of our money was used to file patents, so naturally she was very worried when I came up with a new idea. But I have always believed that inventions are important to develop our society and that patents are essential in protecting intellectual property."
Lewiner has filed over 150 French patent applications, and holds nearly 70 granted European patents, in addition to numerous related patents abroad, many of which have been the basis of important industrial developments. He is estimated to have filed more than 500 patent applications throughout the world. While many of Lewiner's inventions are in the field of electronics, he has been active in many other areas from medical sensors to security to telecommunications.
One of Lewiner's earlier inventions was a composite sheet that works as an electromechanical transducer. Patented in 1977, this invention converts cyclical vital functions such as the heartbeat and breathing into an electromechanical signal, triggering an alarm when these cycles change. This bed sheet is ideal for monitoring sleep apnoea patients or new-born babies and, unlike previous inventions such as sleeping masks or patched sensors, it allows for full freedom of movement. Continuously seeking to advance technology, Lewiner made improvements to his bio-signal-monitoring bed sheet in 1980, and again in 1984.
In a different field, Lewiner is also one of the creative forces behind the magnetic-card-activated door lock that became a standard at hotels around the world. He designed an algorithm-based coding system that was one of the first technologies to make magnetic card locks practical. His solution was not only safer since it could accommodate lost, stolen or replacement cards; it also meant hotel staff did not need to accompany each new guest to his or her room. The system was granted a European patent in 1989, and by Lewiner's own estimates, has been used to safeguard hundreds of thousands of hotel rooms since.
In 1991, the French inventor patented an improvement of the ionic smoke detector, making it less prone to false alarms - which, at the time, were a common annoyance. In previous models, ionised air particles in a special chamber in the detector would form an electric current. When smoke particles obstructed this current, the alarm would sound. But a sudden draft or gust could displace the air particles, also triggering the alarm. Lewiner's idea was to build an additional ionisation chamber into the detector to compensate for harmless air currents.
Lewiner's ionic smoke detector became an intellectual-property cornerstone of the fire-detection specialist company Finsecur S.A., which Lewiner co-founded in 1999. Since then, Finsecur has grown its patent portfolio to over 120 patents and is reported to have a turnover of EUR 34 million and employ some 168 people. Lewiner has moved on to found and co-founded numerous start-up companies. He is involved in cellular modelling firm Cytoo, 3D Printing technology company Sculpteo, chemical speciality business Roowin, electronic camera firm CYNOVE, and even power-scooter start-up ElectricMood.
Many of Lewiner's projects involved collaboration across technical and scientific fields and several of Lewiner's start-ups were launched in co-operation with former ESPCI Paris students. One of the more successful of these is Inventel, which he started with his former student Éric Carreel. The consumer electronics and communication systems specialist company got its start with a patent for a business paging system but pivoted quickly into Internet technology in sync with the dotcom boom. Inventel's popular "Livebox" router-modem combination was offered by telecom operators in France (and later in Spain, the UK and other countries) to consumers to enable triple play services (internet, TV and fixed-line telephony). Inventel was bought by the French communications and entertainment company Thomson SA (now Technicolor SA) for EUR 146 million in 2005.
A more recent example of Lewiner's business success is Sculpteo, a company specialising in 3D printing that was set up by Lewiner, Carreel and former ESPCI Paris student Clément Moreau. The latest reported figures from 2017 for Sculpteo state that it has 55 employees and has so far raised around EUR 7 million in investments. Sculpteo is active in a global 3D printing market estimated to be worth about EUR 5.3 billion in 2017 and growing at around 26% per year to EUR 26.4 billion by 2023.
Lewiner's work has been widely recognised. He has held the title of Knight in the National Order of the Legion of Honour since 2005 and been a member of the French Academy of Technologies in 2005. He was awarded Doctor Honoris Causa by Ben Gurion University in Beersheba, Israel (2015) and Doctor Honoris Causa at Technion in Haifa, Israel (2016). Most recently, he obtained the Prix Spécial Marius Lavet in 2017.
Today, he serves as Honorary Scientific Director at ESPCI Paris as well as Dean of Innovation and Entrepreneurship at Université PSL (Paris Sciences & Lettres) and Chairman of the Fonds ESPCI Paris. He helps fellow researchers and students better understand the important role of patents and continues to build bridges between science and industry.
He is convinced that the ingenuity we have seen so far is just a taste of what is to come: "I think many European countries have excellent scientific research institutions, but there is still a lot of untapped potential when it comes to working together with industry and applying that research. I believe science contributes to improving society, our lives and our health and I will continue to make sure that scientific knowledge and innovations are applied, which is what I'm doing here in France."
Download our app "Innovation TV" to your smart TV and watch video portraits of all finalists on your TV screen.
Luminary individuals like Jacques Lewiner are rare, but there are a few European inventors who have matched his extensive output such as German inventor Artur Fischer, winner of the European Inventor Award 2014 in the category lifetime achievement and most famous for inventing the expanding wall plug, or inventor Elmar Mock (finalist, Lifetime achievement, 2017) who invented ultrasound welding (used in Swatch watches) and went on to found Creaholic, a successful inventions incubator.
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