All those involved with patents know that patents are a reward for the inventors’ research efforts and that they serve the purpose of fostering innovation. Not surprisingly, the European Patent Office’s stated mission – as a patent-granting organization – is to “support innovation, competitiveness and economic growth across Europe through a commitment to high quality and efficient services delivered under the European Patent Convention.”

Not many know, however, that in addition to conferring patents, the EPO also confers a yearly prize called the European Inventor Award. Indeed, the EPO has just made a call for submissions of candidates for the European Inventor Award of 2014. The closing date for submitting entries is 30 September 2013.

The categories that are considered for this prize are numerous and multi-faceted. With respect to industry, the EPO is seeking to reward outstanding and successful technologies patented by large European companies, therefore putting a geographic emphasis on the region where the EPO can confer patent protection. In terms of applicant company size, the EPO is particularly interested in rewarding inventions made by SMEs. However, the EPO is not only focusing on commercial companies and enterprises, but is also seeking to encourage research at university and research institutes. This is why the EPO rewards pioneering inventors working in such contexts. Furthermore, while one-off inventions are surely worthy of patent protection, the EPO is also eager to identify and reward the long-term contribution of an individual European inventor, which the EPO recognizes with a “Lifetime Achievement” award. Notably, the lifetime achievement category is open to European nationals only. It does not matter if the inventor is currently living outside Europe; what matters is the inventor’s nationality. It is also interesting to note that inventors cannot put themselves forward for the Lifetime Achievement award. Of final note, and especially given that the vast majority of European applications are in the name of non-European applicants, a category of the European Inventor Award is dedicated specifically to inventors who are not European nationals but who hold a European patent (in this respect, it is worth nothing that – unlike the Lifeteme Achievement award – inventors who are not European nationals can only be entered for the non-European countries category).

Anyone who feels suited, or knows anyone who could be suited, for running for the European Inventor Award can apply, regardless of whether the candidate works in industry, at a university or research institute, for an association or is an individual inventor. The EPO’s effort to make this prize as inclusive as possible is also confirmed by the fact that all of the EPO’s 4,000 Examiners are called on to come up with groundbreaking inventions from the various technological areas addressed in the hundreds of thousands of European patents and patent applications filed each year. The same holds for any Examiners working at national patent offices.

To be eligible for the European Inventor Award, candidates must show that the invention shows a high degree of inventiveness. At the same time, it must have a practical application, bringing about clearly recognisable benefits for the economy and for society, such as increased employment, and must represent or generate an improvement in quality of life and/or protection of the environment. Furthermore, the candidate must show that the invention has a demonstrable market success, or the potential therefor, in the European market.

All of the above shows that the European Inventor Award represents a great honor and public acknowledgment of the winners’ research achievements, just as for patents, which act as the real drivers for innovation in technology.

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