The ‘Eurovision of inventors’ and new solutions for protecting the planet

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

A view from the European Inventor Award, Venice 2017. [@AIPPI_ORG/ Twitter]

Whether or not Donald Trump is taking part in efforts to protect the planet, inventions and technological progress are filling an important gap and the EU is playing a role bigger than generally assumed, writes Eli Hadzhieva.

Eli Hadzhieva is the founder of the Brussels-based NGO Dialogue for Europe and a consultant at the OECD.

For the Munich-based European Patent Office (EPO), the withdrawal of the US President Donald from the Paris Agreement on Climate Change is not the end of the world. The President of the 38-member-state European public institution, Benoît Battistelli, commented in Venice last week, on the occasion of the European Inventor Award (IEA), that under the circumstances, innovation will be key.

The European Inventor Award is sometimes called “the Eurovision of inventors”.

Battistelli argued that contrary to beliefs in the EU’s decline, the Union was in fact becoming a hub for innovation. Indeed, US applicants constitute only 25% of all EPO applicants, while one-third of patent applicants in the US are of European origin.

The new unitary patent due to start in early 2018 is likely to render European patterns more attractive, strengthening the European patent system by protection in 26 countries with one application, cost reduction and simple litigation mechanisms.

According to a study by European Union Intellectual Property Office and European Patent Office, IPR-intensive industries generated 42% of the GDP in the EU, with a value of €5.7 trillion, a trade surplus of €96.4 billion and 28% of all the jobs in the EU during the 2011-2013 period.

Having the aim of promoting innovation and enhancing Europe’s competition, the EPO distributes the Oscars of science and technology to innovative minds that come up with new solutions to our societal challenges and celebrates their outstanding contributions to technological progress every year through a prestigious award.

The 12th EIA ceremony, which took place in the Venetian Arsenal on 15 June, saw the catwalk of distinguished inventors from 12 countries in five categories: Lifetime achievement, industry, research, Non-European countries and SMEs. A 6th category involved the popular prize, which was awarded by public vote to Moroccan scientist Adnane Remmal for his work on natural antibiotics.

The patented inventions of the 15 finalists competing for this year’s awards included life-saving medical advances, materials to protect our environment, such as green plastics, and satellite navigation. More than half of the awards were granted in the field of medicine, which is the largest field of technology. Jan van den Boogaart and Oliver Hayden (Netherlands, Austria), the pan-European Galileo engineering team headed by Laurent Lestarquit and Jose Angel Avila Rodriguez and James G. Fujimoto, Eric A. Swanson and Robert Huber (USA, Germany) were some of the winners.

The lifetime achievement award, granted to Rino Rappualti by Italy’s Minister of Economic Development Carlo Calenda, came as no surprise. The 64-year-old Italian scientist invented next-generation vaccines against meningitis, whooping cough, diphtheria, eradicating these infectious diseases in the developed world. A founder of cellular microbiology, Rappualti created the world’s first genome-derived vaccines, revolutionising vaccine design.

He is a pioneer of conjugate vaccines, which focuses on attaching bacteria to carrier proteins and activating both B-cells and T-cells rather than using weakened pathogens. He also invented reverse vaccinology, privileging vaccine design on a computer rather than in laboratories, which allows for thousands of genome sequences to be analysed in a day on a computer rather than during 15 months in a lab.

In an interview, Rappualti explained he had started his career as an inventor out of frustration, with a desire to stop children’s death of infectious diseases. While hopeful for technological advancements regarding cancer prevention through future synthetic and personalised vaccines, such as RNA, the scientist said that more can be done in poor countries with limited return on investment through charitable organisations and companies, such as Wellcome Trust, Melinda and Bill Gates Foundation and GSK.

Another striking invention was the super-wax used for cleaning oil spills, with an absorption capacity seven times its weight. Unlike Corexit, a product used during oil spill response operations in the Gulf of Mexico to push the oil to the depths of the ocean, PURE absorbs the oil on the surface, allowing for its separation and re-use in the refinery process. In an interview, the team of the German inventor Günter Hufschmid explained proudly how they collaborated with a catamaran using PURE on its net to clean the oceans and how they helped cleaning platforms in Scotland and preserving the Niger Delta.

Once again Europeans seem to have found effective ways to protect the environment. This gives renewed hope for the future of our planet, whether or not Trump is taking part in the game.

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