02 February 2015
I first met Artur Fischer during the European Inventor Award ceremony in Berlin in June 2014 when he received the Lifetime Achievement Award. I was most impressed by this extraordinary character – the 95-year-old doyen of inventors, the “man of 1000 patents”, as the German press reverentially refer to him. He invited me to visit his office in Tumlingen, his hometown in the Black Forest. Last week I was extremely pleased to take up his invitation and honoured to be welcomed into the workshop of this genius.
Today the Fischer Group, still family-owned, employs nearly 4300 people and has an annual turnover around 700 million EUR. Fixings are still the strongest of the company’s four commercial units, and wall plugs and steel anchors are its best-known products, with “Fischer Dübel” being a household name in many countries. Hardly less known are the Fischertechnik toy kits which Artur Fischer developed in 1964. One can only be impressed by such innovation and commercial success, but I was stuck by his energy, his dynamism, his willingness to overcome as many challenges as possible. His message was that life in itself was a risky matter but it should not be a reason not to try.
Indeed anyone watching CNN’s coverage from the World Economic Forum in Davos last month could not have failed to notice their focus on risks. Terrorism, civil wars, cyber-vandalism, fragility in the Eurozone, wider economic shocks, energy prices and climate change are all risks for the year ahead – and these certainly put into perspective what we in the IP world regard as our big challenges. I joined with two CEOs – Ulrich Spiesshofer from ABB and Harry Hohmeister from Swiss Air – on a panel debate with CNN’s Richard Quest at his Davos Debrief event last Monday night in Zürich to examine these issues more closely.
From our patent filing statistics I see an increasing risk-aversion and a tendency for conservatism of established economies with aging populations – Europe being the prime example with stable filings year after year. Conversely, the growing economies with a younger demographic are more driven to innovate by aspirational young people who are more willing to take risks so as to improve their lives. These are the innovators of the future, who embody the spirit of invention. Europe could learn from them – a healthy appetite for balanced risk is good for growth. But inventiveness is also a question of mind and readiness to move forward as demonstrated by Mr Fischer throughout his long life.
On 11 June, we will hold the tenth European Inventor Award ceremony in Paris, our contribution to the fair recognition of some of today’s most creative minds. The jury deliberated in Munich last week and the finalists will be announced in April. Artur Fischer and many other inventors and entrepreneurs will be our guests in Paris next June. I hope their example will inspire us all.