Press release | 7.5.2019
Munich, 7 May 2019 – The European Patent Office (EPO) announces that Spanish inventors Antonio Corredor Molguero and Carlos Fermín Menéndez Díaz have been nominated for the European Inventor Award 2019 as finalists in the category "Industry" for their reusable mould that creates concrete blocks to protect harbours and coastlines, saving construction costs and helping to use resources more efficiently.
Together, these two inventors have enabled the industrial application of the concrete units called Cubipods that were originally devised and patented by university researchers, who sought industry help to bring their product to market.
Today, the mould is commercialised by global infrastructure group OHL, through its specialized subsidiary SATO, a reference company specialized in the sector of sea and ports works based in Spain, and sole licensor of the Cubipod. The mould has been used to produce the blocks for harbour defences in Algeria, Denmark and Spain, with markets in Chile, Mexico and Morocco also being explored.
"Corredor and Menéndez's invention has been a crucial factor in making the Cubipod economically viable for industry," said EPO President António Campinos about their nomination for the European Inventor Award 2019. "Their work shows how universities and businesses can work together by licensing intellectual property."
The winners of the 2019 edition of the EPO's annual innovation prize will be announced at a ceremony in Vienna on 20 June.
Breakwaters mimic the protection of natural headlands and reefs, and are usually made by randomly placing large, misshapen cubic cement blocks that take the brunt of the force when waves hit them. By lessening the power of waves as they approach land, they help to reduce erosion, provide a sheltered harbour for boats and other maritime services, and save lives in the event of catastrophic storms.
However, while quick and simple to produce, cubic blocks traditionally have flat sides that tend to stick together, reducing their strength and stability. When placed in layers, the blocks also tend to compact at the bottom, leaving the top layer more exposed. This can weaken the breakwater and increase the risk of water overtopping it.
An unusually-shaped block, called the Cubipod, was developed by Spanish researchers Josep Ramon Medina and Esther Gómez-Martín at the Polytechnic University of Valencia (UPV) in Spain to address these concerns. The cube-shaped design has protrusions on each face that prevent the blocks from forming a "self-packing" arrangement. This means there are no flat surfaces that can adhere to each other, eliminating the danger that a breakwater will compact at the bottom and open up at the top.
After filing a patent application for their invention, Medina and Gómez-Martín sought industry help to bring the product to market and began working with SATO, a marine construction company based in Madrid. Corredor, who studied civil engineering at the Polytechnic University of Madrid and is currently head of SATO's Technical Office, and Menéndez, from Asturias, who at the time was SATO's workshop chief and foreman, quickly saw the potential in Cubipod on account of its form. Based on their experience of working on breakwater construction projects, they immediately understood that in order to make the Cubipod economically viable, they needed to develop a means of producing the blocks in an efficient, cost-effective and flexible manner.
By working together and combining their expertise, the two men devised a mould that enables Cubipods to be manufactured from regular concrete in large numbers without compromising on quality or pushing up costs. Compared with other moulds, Corredor says that the main advantage of his and Menéndez's invention is that the block can be manufactured by lifting the mould: "That means we don't need any space around the mould, and so the Cubipods can be created very close together. What's more, with one mould we can even produce several pieces per day."
Production on site is a critical factor because a breakwater typically requires several thousand Cubipods, which would be costly to transport. Blocks can be winched into storage stacks or onto a breakwater by means of simple pressure-clamps. The clamps used to handle Cubipods also make them easier to store given their cubic shape. The Cubipod mould brings savings on constructions of up to 45% over the use of other bulky units or conventional cubic concrete blocks, according to Corredor.
Following its development, a patent application was filed for Corredor and Menéndez's mould in 2007 and a European patent granted in 2013. SATO now holds the sole license for the Cubipod patent from UPV, as well as the patent for moulds used to construct the Cubipod. For Corredor, applying for a patent was a crucial step for both inventors. "Patents not only enable companies to invest and pursue innovations; they also provide recognition for individuals that have contributed to an invention," he says.
The Cubipod was first deployed at the port of Malaga in 2011. The Cubipod has since been used in a number of Spanish port projects, including in A Coruña in 2012 and in Las Palmas, Gran Canaria in 2014. The Las Palmas project involved the installation of nearly
2 000 Cubipods to protect a new basin. In 2018, the company was awarded a EUR 44.6 million contract to expand the port of Agaete in Gran Canaria. And in 2019, the company won a contract valued at EUR 8.1 million for the construction of the southern outer sea wall of Naos, in the Port of Arrecife in Lanzarote. These projects have meant the construction and installation of more than 33 000 Cubipods of various sizes, from 3 tons to 45 tons.
The market for constructing effective breakwaters is likely to grow due to the impact of climate change which is expected to cause significant long-term changes in sea level, a greater frequency of storm surges and an increase in the intensity of storms. These occurrences will increase the vulnerability and exposure of port and harbour structures and the demand for better coastal protection.
The European Inventor Award is one of Europe's most prestigious innovation prizes. Launched by the EPO in 2006, it honours individual inventors and teams of inventors whose pioneering inventions provide answers to some of the biggest challenges of our times. The finalists and winners are selected by an independent jury consisting of international authorities from the fields of business, politics, science, academia and research who examine the proposals for their contribution towards technical progress, social development, economic prosperity and job creation in Europe. The Award is conferred in five categories at a ceremony that will this year take place in Vienna on 20 June. In addition, the public selects the winner of the Popular Prize from among the 15 finalists by online voting on the EPO website in the run-up to the ceremony. Voting is open until 16 June 2019.
With nearly 7 000 staff, the European Patent Office (EPO) is one of the largest public service institutions in Europe. Headquartered in Munich with offices in Berlin, Brussels, The Hague and Vienna, the EPO was founded with the aim of strengthening cooperation on patents in Europe. Through the EPO's centralised patent granting procedure, inventors are able to obtain high-quality patent protection in up to 44 countries, covering a market of some 700 million people. The EPO is also the world's leading authority in patent information and patent searching.
View the patent: EP2202361
Additional information, photos and videos about the European Inventor Award 2019 can be found in the EPO Media Centre. Smart TV users can download our app "Innovation TV" and watch videos about all finalists on their TV screen. The award ceremony on 20 June 2019 will be broadcast live on Innovation TV, the EPO website and the EPO's Facebook page.
Director External Communication
Tel. +49 89 2399 1833
Mobile: +49 16 3839 9527