Industrial

European Inventor Award 2021 finalists announced

5th May 2021
Alex Lynn

The European Patent Office (EPO) has announced the 15 inventors and inventor teams shortlisted as finalists for the 2021 edition of the European Inventor Award. The EPO’s prestigious annual innovation prize, now in its 15th year, recognises outstanding inventors who have made an exceptional contribution to technology, society, and economic growth.  

The 2021 European Inventor Award winners will be announced at a ceremony beginning at 19:00 CEST on 17th June 2021, which has this year been reimagined as a digital event for a global audience. The ceremony will be open to the public and held in an extended reality format at www.inventoraward.org

“The past year has highlighted more than ever the importance of scientists, researchers, inventors and entrepreneurs in advancing technology and improving our lives,” said EPO President António Campinos. “This year’s finalists for the European Inventor Award 2021 are shining examples of the ingenuity and creativity that support technological progress and pave the way for job creation and economic growth.

“Each of the exceptional finalists is a trailblazer in their respective field, and has made a tangible contribution to overcoming some of society’s most pressing challenges, from turning carbon emissions into a resource to broadening our pool of antibiotics and more”. 

The 2021 finalists come from Austria, China, Denmark, France, Germany, India, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Serbia, Spain, Switzerland, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and the United States. They were selected from a pool of nearly 400 inventors and teams of inventors by an independent, international jury. The pool itself was proposed by members of the public, representatives of national patent offices across Europe, and EPO staff.  

Their inventions cover a range of fields including disease diagnosis, biometrics, DNA storage, solar power, offshore access, bacteria cultivation, tissue engineering, RNA analysis, nasal drug delivery, longline fishing bycatch solutions and organic semiconductors. All of the finalists have made use of the European patent system to protect their technologies, and in so doing, enabling other researchers and inventors to build on their innovations.

The 15 finalists in the five categories are:  

Industry  

Per Gisle Djupesland (Norway): Better nasal drug delivery 

The Norwegian inventor's medical device uses the nose's natural form and function to improve nasal drug delivery and provide relief for various conditions. The invention helped grow a company that is now stock-exchange listed and develops innovative medical solutions – a breath of fresh air for patients. 

Christoph Gürtler, Walter Leitner and team (Germany): Using carbon dioxide to make greener plastics 

The German team has taken a step towards a circular economy by developing a commercially viable method of using CO2 in plastic production. Their invention turns waste into a resource and is used to manufacture clothing, flooring, detergents and other everyday products. 

Jan van der Tempel (Netherlands): Safe transfer to and from offshore platforms 

Transferring workers and cargo to and from offshore structures can be risky, expensive, and time-consuming. The Dutch engineer's motion-compensated offshore access system works like a flight simulator in reverse, bringing together sensors, data processing and hydraulics to compensate for wave motion in real time. 

Research 

Marco Donolato and team (Italy/Denmark): Magnetic nanoparticles to diagnose disease 

The international team of researchers combined lasers with magnetic nanoparticles to develop a device that can detect dengue fever and other infectious diseases. Testing is accurate, less expensive, and requires little training for medical staff – crucial factors in many developing countries. 

Robert N. Grass and Wendelin Stark (Austria/Switzerland): DNA-based data storage 

The Austrian and Swiss inventors' error-proof data-storage method encapsulates DNA strands in tiny silica beads. When these robust beads are applied to products, they ensure that specific indicators – such as the origin or working conditions – are traceable throughout the supply chain. 

Mathias Fink and Mickael Tanter (France): Ultrasound imaging using shear waves 

The French researchers invented a novel medical imaging method. Initially developed to test the firmness of cheese, the inventors realised the technique would work with human tissue. Their ultrasound is non-invasive, enabling doctors to conduct scans and spare patients painful biopsies. 

Non-EPO countries  

Bo Pi and Yi He (China): Live fingerprint sensors for greater security 

Previously, smartphone fingerprint scanners could be fooled by fake fingerprints or spoofing attacks. The Chinese researchers developed the world's first system to verify a fingerprint pattern and detect live blood flow. 

Kim Lewis and Slava S. Epstein (USA): Tools to cultivate microbes 

Because 99% of microbes cannot be cultured in a lab, new antibiotics classes have not been discovered in over a decade. These inventors developed a device that encourages microbial growth, enabling researchers to grow almost 80,000 strains of previously unculturable organisms. 

Sumita Mitra (India/USA): Restoring smiles with nanomaterials 

This researcher found that nanoclusters could be used in dentistry, resulting in robust, durable and aesthetically pleasing fillings. These tiny clusters have been used in one billion dental restorations worldwide. 

Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs)  

Carmen Hijosa (Spain): Turning pineapple leaves into a sustainable alternative to leather 

Having seen the leather industry's impact first hand, the sustainable entrepreneur developed a process for turning pineapple leaves into a soft, durable and versatile material. Her leather alternative not only supports farming communities but is also sought after by major international fashion brands. 

Ben and Pete Kibel (United Kingdom): A simple solution to longline fishing seabird bycatch 

Longline fishing has a devasting effect on seabirds, killing 300 000 each year. The brothers invented a simple solution: a pod that covers baited hooks and only opens once 20 metres underwater, out of reach for most birds. The device is effective, inexpensive and gaining popularity worldwide. 

Henrik Lindström and Giovanni Fili (Sweden): Flexible solar cells for portable devices 

From their plant in Stockholm, the inventors produce a dye-sensitised solar cell that can be custom-printed in almost any shape or colour and can even generate electricity indoors. Thanks to its versatility, the cells are being integrated into various electronics to create self-charging devices. 

Lifetime achievement  

Metin Colpan (Germany): Efficient tools to analyse nucleic acids 

For almost four decades, this inventor has developed tools that aid scientists in fields ranging from disease diagnosis and forensics, to food safety and pharmaceutical therapies. His inventions have been the driving force behind a successful company that now employs over 5 300 people worldwide. 

Karl Leo (Germany): Advances in organic semiconductors 

The German physicist advanced organic semiconductors by improving their conductivity through a technique called doping. Currently, half of the world's smartphones and many types of solar cells incorporate his technology. He has also founded several companies in a career spanning over 30 years. 

Gordana Vunjak-Novakovic (Serbia/USA): Advances in tissue engineering 

The researcher, author and entrepreneur adopted a novel approach to tissue engineering. She created the specific environment that cells need to form different tissue types. This method has had far-reaching implications, enabling scientists to now grow bone, heart and lung tissue. 

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