25 September 2012
Last week the EPO held a reception in honour of Thierry Schmitter, a disabled examiner in our branch at The Hague, who won a bronze medal in the London 2012 Paralympic Sailing Regatta. The staff at The Hague joined me in congratulating Thierry on a further triumph, building on previous Paralympic successes in Athens and Beijing. Since taking up competition sailing in 2000, he has carved out a hugely impressive sporting career, competing not only with disabled sailors like himself, but also with able-bodied athletes.
This, of course, is not just a matter of sporting ability and skill. In Thierry’s case, personality and attitude are crucially involved. After losing the use of his legs in a climbing accident in 1998, Thierry was determined not to be limited by his disability. He fought his way back to physical fitness and drove himself to excel at the sport in which he has won Olympic honours.
Thierry has said he wants “to prove that people with a handicap not only can be part of society, but especially that they can be achievers”. This year, it became apparent that this message is getting across. The Paralympics drew an enormous amount of public attention and the media were full of praise for the accomplishments of Thierry and others in his situation. Thierry told me that he had been approached, while wheeling himself around London, by a small boy who hailed him with the words, “You must be an athlete”. That, I think, indicates a real and very welcome shift in society’s view of disability.
From the outside, at least, it’s easy to forget that the patent world is about people as well as processes. The example of Thierry Schmitter is a corrective to that. His is a human story, of triumph over adversity. It shows us where life’s real priorities lie, and that seemingly impossible obstacles can be overcome. His courage and perseverance command our highest respect.