The 12th European Inventor Awards were held at the Arsenale in Venice. This year the international jury was chaired by Mario Moretti Polegato, CEO of Geox. Polegato has a special relationship with the European Inventor Awards: he was nominated for the Lifetime Achievement award in 2012 with his invention of “the shoe that breathes”, and he has strong links with the patenting world generally. His patent for the famous rubber sole was filed in 1989, but none of the big shoe manufacturers expressed interest in the new technology. Undaunted, Polegato decided to open a shoe factory to implement his idea: the result was Geox, one of the largest manufacturers of footwear in the world today.

The selection procedure for these and the other finalists is democratic and structured: anyone can nominate a candidate, as long as that candidate has a European patent, by completing the form on the website of the European Patent Office (EPO). When the candidate nomination phase ends (this year over 450 nominations were received), the EPO adjudicators evaluated them individually and drew up a shortlist of candidates. This was sent to an independent, international jury, made up of authorities in commerce, science, academia and research, which selected three inventors for each category. These nominees were then published on the EPO website for the popular vote. After voting closed, the international jury announced the winners at a gala event.

The Industry category, for European inventors whose inventions have been patented by large-scale European industry groups, was won by the team made up of Jan van den Boogaart from Denmark and Oliver Hayden from Austria, for their invention of a rapid blood test for malaria. The SMEs category, which recognizes European inventors who work in small and medium enterprises, was won by Günter Hufschmid from Germany for his supersponge for oil spills. The Research award, which recognizes European inventors who in academia or at research institutes, went to Laurent Lestarquit, José Ángel Ávila Rodríguez, Günter W. Hein, Jean-Luc Issler and Lionel Ries (from France, Spain, Germany, and Belgium respectively) for inventing radio signals for better satellite navigation. The Non-EPO Countries award, for inventors who are not European citizens, but whose inventions are available and enjoy commercial success in Europe, was won by James G. Fujimoto, Eric A. Swanson and Robert Huber (from the USA and Germany) for their work on medical imaging with optical coherence tomography and, lastly, the career award, the Lifetime Achievement, which honors the long-term contribution of a single European inventor and their patented inventions, which have had a major impact on their technological sector and on society in general, was won by Rino Rappuoli from Italy for inventing new-generation vaccines for the treatment of meningitis, whooping-cough and other infections.

It was 2006 when the European Patent Office set up the European Inventor Awards to honor inventors from all over the world for their contribution to social progress, economic prosperity and employment. Since then, every year the EPO has honored ideas that have changed and improved our daily lives: in the pharmaceutical sector, with the treatment for Parkinson’s developed by Yiqing Zhou’s Chinese team, and in communications, with the invention of the QR code by Masahiro Hara’s Japanese team, and of course in IT, with the microchip designed by Federico Faggin from Italy, and in mechanical engineering, with American Charles Hull’s 3D printing, and even in consumer goods, with the wall plug invented by Artur Fischer from Germany, and in environmental technologies, with the biodegradable plastic invented by Catia Bastioli from Italy. These are all inventions that have revolutionized and improved our lives and it is important that they be recognized in the merits, even if such recognition is moral only (no prize money is awarded to the winners).

No matter who won this year, the importance of these awards lies in the recognition of ideas as the basis of progress and of improving living conditions for all humanity.

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