13 June 2018 - No comments »
Just a few days ago in Saint-Germain-en-Laye, Paris, we held our annual European Inventor Award. Now in its 13th year, the event has come to be known as one of the foremost prizes for innovation in Europe and beyond. I was delighted to welcome over 300 guests to a VIP reception at the prestigious Château de Saint-Germain-en-Laye, and around 600 guests attended the Award ceremony itself, making this one of the largest inventor awards we’ve held.
Over the last eight years we’ve seen what was once a fairly specialist ceremony for innovation become a major prize ceremony that is reported across the globe and known to many. Like the innovations featured each year, the rising prominence of the EIA has in my view been down to a unique combination of factors. Having just presided over this event for the last time, I want to highlight some of those features that I have noticed since my first EIA and how they are shaping one of innovation’s most celebrated awards.
A rich field of quality candidates
A competition is only as strong as its contenders. Luckily for us here at the EPO, a dynamic European innovation sector is giving rise to world class inventors and ensures that we have a continual, incoming stream of high-quality nominations for the inventor award. For example, EPO member states feature prominently among the list of most innovative countries in the world and more patent applications were filed at the EPO last year than in any other year on record. For the European Inventor Award, this is translating into more and more eligible proposals. Since 2012 the number of proposals has more than tripled and this year we reached a record 530. The calibre of those candidates has also been outstanding, with inventions this year that have reduced energy consumption, fuelled the imagination of the next generation of inventors, saved lives and even reinvented the wheel.
An expert jury
While the EIA has benefitted from an extensive list of quality nominations, the work of the jury has always been crucial for selecting the most worthy finalists and winners. This year we were once again able to draw upon the expertise and insight of recognised leaders in the worlds of innovation, academia, business, and media. We were grateful to all the jury members and the Chair of the jury Mr Thierry Breton for their diligent work that led us to the final drum rolls in Saint-Germain-en-Laye, when the winners were announced.
Stories that capture the public’s imagination
At its very heart, the EIA is an award that gives inventors the recognition they deserve for their contributions to our society. It reveals fascinating tales of creativity, inspiration, perseverance, and a will to succeed that has overcome obstacles. Those stories and inventions have captured the imagination of a public, enabled by a media that has become increasingly engaged with the event. Greater attendance of journalists – who are fully aware of the strong interest of their audience – has led to a tenfold increase in media coverage since 2011. I am delighted that this year’s initial reporting figures already indicate that our finalists will have received greater public attention than ever before.
Recognition of the value of patents
As our finalists have pointed out time and time again, patents have been a determining factor in their success. This year Lifetime Achievement nominee Jacques Lewiner spoke about the importance of the patent system, saying ‘The patent system protects you….and helps you raise money to transform your invention into reality”. Likewise, during his acceptance speech Jens Frahm gave a no-holds-barred statement on the importance of patents, stating “It’s actually important that you apply for a patent. You are not taken seriously without any patent. Think about securing your intellectual property.” Their comments underline the many ways in which all enterprises – large and small – can make use of patents to add value to their businesses and achieve greater growth, as demonstrated in our recent study on SMEs and patent protection.
That inspiring moment
Anyone who’s been to the European Inventor Award has their own memories of unique moments that capture the pioneering spirit of innovation and I am certain that they have all helped make the Award what it is today. This year, a strong contender for the honour is surely Ursula Keller’s rousing and impassioned acceptance speech, calling for female inventors to persevere in their work – one which brought spontaneous and rapturous applause from an audience that was witnessing a watershed moment for the EIA. With six female nominees and four winners, the number of women honoured at the EIA was at its highest since the creation of the event in 2006.
The importance of innovation for gender diversity was also highlighted by Michaëlle Jean, Secretary-General of the Organisation internationale de la Francophonie. During her speech she highlighted how new technologies offer people – and particularly young women – opportunities that can allow them to become masters of their own fate.
The 2018 EIA once again demonstrated the vitality of European innovation and showcased the exceptional inventors we have in Europe. A unique combination of factors has made this a very special event for inventors, the patent community and the public. It is the result of a thriving innovation sector, of experts who can select the strongest contenders, of a strong patent system and unique, inspirational moments. But above all, it is thanks to the world class inventors that are pushing the boundaries of what we thought possible and the public’s desire to honour those achievements.