Press release | 21.6.2022
Munich, 21 June 2022 - The European Patent Office (EPO) today honoured Brazilian product designer Rafaella de Bona Gonçalves with a EUR 10 000 award in the inaugural Young Inventors prize. De Bona has developed sustainable sanitary pads and tampons that are fully biodegradable, contain fibres such as those recovered from Brazil's banana harvest waste stream, and will help improve menstrual hygiene for disadvantaged groups by being sold on a buy-one-give-one basis.
"Rafaella de Bona Gonçalves has shown remarkable creativity, determination and compassion in developing her products to alleviate the problems of period poverty among disadvantaged groups in Brazil," says António Campinos, President of the European Patent Office. "Her commitment to sustainability goes right along the value chain from raw materials to marketing and I'm delighted she is among the first finalists of our new Young Inventors prize."
De Bona was honoured at a hybrid event watched online by a worldwide audience to announce the winners of the 2022 edition of the European Inventor Award, one of Europe's most prestigious innovation prizes. The EPO created the new Young Inventors prize under the auspices of the Award especially for innovators aged 30 and under. It offers a monetary reward to young innovators who have developed solutions that contribute to United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals and positively impact our lives. De Bona was runner-up in the inaugural prize.
De Bona came across the problem of period poverty - inadequate access to sanitary products, washing facilities, and waste management - during research for a course on design solutions to tackle the UN's Sustainable Development Goals. She decided to develop design menstrual products for disadvantaged people, such as those living on the streets.
Her first product was a disposable, fully biodegradable tampon that does not create plastic waste. However, after running into distribution issues, she pivoted to a biodegradable sanitary product that can either be used as a sanitary pad with adhesive strips or torn along perforations to be converted into two tampons, depending on preference or personal living circumstances. The connected pads were designed on the principle of toilet paper rolls, to be easily torn off, unfolded and rolled up into tampons of any size.
De Bona's menstrual products have three aims: to be environmentally sustainable, to be available to everyone who needs them and to embrace gender diversity. The pads contain a soft bamboo fibre in the first layer, banana fibre, soy foam or wood cellulose in the second and a waterproof, biodegradable outer layer. They will be sold through a buy-one-give-one model which involves selling a premium product with a second being donated to people in period poverty. And colourful packaging is designed to recognise gender diversity.
De Bona says that gender is an important dimension in her work. The banana fibre for the pads is sourced through a women-led cooperative and she is working with a women-led online marketplace to bring the products to market. "In most of my projects, I seek to tackle the problems of gender inequality. So, I have many projects focused on the place of women in society and all the problems we face, as well as our daily difficulties."
Rafaella de Bona Gonçalves, 25, was born in Curitiba, Brazil. She graduated with a bachelor's degree in product design from the Federal University of Paraná in 2020, winning the 2019 iF Design Talent Award for her graduation project. Since May 2021, de Bona Gonçalves has worked full-time as a UX researcher and service designer for the healthcare services company Robot Laura. De Bona Gonçalves was a speaker at TEDx in 2019 and has been recognised with further honours and awards including a silver Bornancini Design Award in 2020, as well as the Diseño Responde prize and the Tomie Ohtake e Leroy Merlin Design Award in 2021.
The European Patent Office established the Young Inventors prize in 2021 to inspire the next generation of inventors. Aimed at innovators aged 30 or below from all around the world, it recognises initiatives that use technology to contribute toward the UN's Sustainable Development Goals. This year, the tied first place winners will each receive EUR 20 000, with the runner up receiving EUR 10 000. An independent jury comprising former finalists of the European Inventor Award selects the finalists and winner. The EPO conferred the inaugural prize at the European Inventor Award virtual ceremony on 21 June. Unlike the traditional Award categories, the Young Inventors prize finalists do not need a granted European patent to be considered for the prize. Read more on the Young Inventors prize eligibility and selection criteria.
With 6 400 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 co-operation 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.
Luis Berenguer Giménez
Principal Director Communication, Spokesperson
EPO Press Desk
Tel. +49 89 2399 1833