The European Patent Office (EPO) just announced the finalists for the 2015 European inventor of the year award. Every year, the EPO grants various awards for outstanding inventorship achievements. These awards are granted to various categories of inventors, namely large European companies, SMEs, research at university and research institutes. The EPO also awards a prize for long-term contribution of individual European inventors by way of the “Lifetime Achievement” award. Last but not least, inventions by entities which are not European nationals but who hold a European patent are awarded a prize as well.

Any member of the public can nominate an inventor for the award. The selection is then carried out by a team of EPO experts and an independent international jury, which evaluates the candidate inventions both in terms of their technological originality and of their economic and social impact.
The EPO first makes a call for submissions, whereby proposals for award candidates are invited from the public, national Patent Offices and the EPO staff. Thereafter, a panel of EPO experts goes through the proposals to make sure that they are procedurally and legally fit for consideration and that the relevant patents are still valid. A shortlist of about 40 candidates belonging to each of the five award categories is prepared for the jury, accompanied by detailed reports regarding the inventions. In the course of a face-to-face meeting the jury selects the finalists in each category. This occurs by majority voting. The EPO then officially announces the finalists to the public, thus triggering the possibility for the public to vote for their favorite inventor. Upon closing of the public vote period, the winners in the five categories are announced by the EPO at the yearly award ceremony.

This year’s industry finalists include Mr Giron of Saint-Gobain glass France, SAGE Electrochromics, who invented an electronically tintable glass, Mr Asplung of ABB, who invented a high-voltage power grid connection, and Mr Amtmann and Mr Maugars of NXP and Sony, who invented the near field communication (NFC) technology. It is interesting to note that all three inventions are in the field of electronics.

The SME finalists are Ms Johanna van’t Veer et al of Merck Sharp & Dohme Corp. and the Netherlands Cancer Institute, for a gene-based breast cancer test, Mr Lescanne Nutriset & Institut de Recherche pour le Développement, for a nutritional paste that combats malnutrition, and Mr Elvesjö and Mr Skogö of Tobii, for an eye-tracking device. Notably, two out of the three candidate inventions are in the field of healthcare.

The research institute finalists include Mr Alphey, who invented a genetically-modified mosquitoes to control dengue fever at Isis Innovation Limited and Oxitec, Mr Jonkers, who invented a self-healing cement containing bacteria at the Technische Universiteit Delft, and Mr Leibler, who invented vitrimers at Arkema France and the French National Center for Scientific Research.

The three non-European finalists are Mr Frazer (Australia) and Mr Zhou (China), who invented a vaccine against human papillomavirus (HPV) at the University of Queensland and CSL, Mr Iijima, Mr Koshio & Ms Yudasaka (Japan), who invented carbon nanotubes at the Japan Science and Technology Agency and NEC, and Ms Holmes (US), who invented a simplified blood-testing system at Theranos.

In all cases, the EPO looks at the importance of the invention also from the viewpoint of societal and economic benefit, so as to identify inventors whose contribution is not only technical and scientific but also noteworthy in the broader sense. It will surely be exciting to find out who of all these worthy inventors will be awarded with the final prize.


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