Two US Inventors Nominated for European Inventor Award

Munich, 2nd May 2012 – Two American scientists have been nominated for the European Inventor Award (EIA), which is presented annually by the European Patent Office (EPO) to outstanding inventors for their contribution to technological, social and economic progress. The winners of the 2012 EIA will be announced during an award ceremony in Copenhagen on June 14th.

Prof. Federico Capasso created an entirely new class of semiconductor lasers, called Quantum Cascade Lasers (QCLs). Dr. Stanford Ovshinsky, a leading American scientist in the fields of energy and information, developed clean-energy NiMH batteries.

The EIA is presented in five categories: “Industry”, “Research”, “Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs)”, “Non-European countries”, and “Lifetime achievement”. From almost two hundred inventors and teams who were originally nominated, fifteen finalists have been selected by an international jury comprising leading personalities from industry, science, politics and media. The USA boasts 12 inventors who have been nominated over the award’s seven-year history and has featured at least one nominee every year. EPO President Benoît Battistelli said, “Innovation has traditionally been a strategic priority in the USA to strengthen its global competitiveness. The American spirit of innovation has attracted talents from all over the world and led to innumerable ground-breaking inventions, such as the ones by Federico Capasso and Stanford Ovshinsky.”

Prof. Federico Capasso 

Prof. Capasso has been nominated in the “Non-European countries” category. Together with Swiss Prof. Jérôme Faist from the ETH Zurich, Federico Capasso and team invented the so-called Quantum Cascade Lasers (QCLs), which are able to reach areas of the electromagnetic spectrum never previously touched by laser light. Today, the ability of QCLs to produce wide bandwidths, high brightness, and high power very efficiently from a compact source has resulted in an array of unique products, from hand-held sensors for explosives detection and other toxic chemicals, to more powerful radar systems. They are used in combat zones and airports, and monitor environmental pollutants in a variety of settings from factories to automobiles. The largest potential for QCLs is seen in the healthcare market, where they are currently used to monitor chemicals in hospital rooms and could soon be used to analyze a patient’s breath to determine causes of illness.

Industry experts put the global market for Mid-Infrared (IR) Sensors, of which QCLs are a part, at US$ 509 million in 2011, which is set to increase to US$ 5 billion by 2018.

Federico Capasso: “The field is literally exploding and the technology is taking off. Every month there is a new development.”

Dr. Stanford Ovshinsky

The second inventor from the USA, nominated in the “Non-European countries” category for his development of NiMH batteries, is self-taught scientist and social entrepreneur Dr. Ovshinsky. These rechargeable batteries offer a clean-energy storage solution with record durability and double to triple the capacity of nickel-cadmium batteries of the same size. Consequently, they have proven to be the battery of choice when it comes to the portable electronic device market. Today, over one billion NiMH batteries are sold annually and are installed in digital cameras, mobile phones and laptops. Stanford Ovshinsky dedicated his life to research and innovation with a wide range of inventions in digital-memory storage, solar energy, optical-discs media, and battery technology. He holds more than 400 patents, and lists more than 300 publications to his name, and has set up several companies, including Ovonic Battery Company in Michigan, USA, which is now part of BASF SE.

Stanford Ovshinsky: “An important aspect of my work was that I wanted to counter de-industrialization. Civilized countries need an industrial base. The NiMH battery technology was an industry enabler, it created jobs.”

Other nominees

In the “Non-European countries” category, another finalist is Dr. John David O’Sullivan (Australia) and team for paving the way for today’s wireless communications (Wi-Fi).

The finalists in the “Industry” category are Dr. Jaap Haartsen (The Netherlands), who invented Bluetooth while at Ericsson; Prof. Hugo Katus from the University of Heidelberg (Germany) and team nominated for the development of a new blood test, which revolutionized the diagnosis of heart attacks; and the team of Jan Tøpholm, Søren Westermann and Svend Vitting Andersen (Denmark), who developed a computer-aided method to manufacture individually-fitted, comfortable hearing-aid devices.

In the “Lifetime achievement” category, three inventors and entrepreneurs have been nominated: Prof. Josef Bille (Germany) for his research achievements in the field of laser eye surgery; Austrian engineer, inventor and entrepreneur Dr. Josef Theurer, who holds more than 600 patents; and Mario Polegato (Italy), founder of the company Geox.

The three finalists in the “Research” category are Dr. Gilles Gosselin (France) and his team who developed a drug for the treatment of Hepatitis B; Prof. Mark van Loosdrecht, Dr. Merle Krista de Kreuk and Dr. Joseph Heijnen (The Netherlands) for the invention of an advanced biological wastewater treatment technology; and Prof. Jason W. Chin (UK) and Prof. Oliver Rackham (Australia) for the development of a new ribosome.

Three entrepreneurs and teams are finalists in the “SMEs” category: Dr. Stefan Lehnert (Germany), founder of Vector Foiltec GmbH, for his patent on a new building technology based on plastic cushions filled with air; Dr. Manfred Stefener (Germany), founder of Smart Fuel Cell AG, for his patent on portable fuel cells; and the team of Dr. Farouk Tedjar and Jean-Claude Foudraz (France) for their invention of a new method for recycling mixed batteries.

About the European Inventor Award (EIA)

Launched in 2006, the European Inventor Award is presented annually by the EPO, in co-operation with the European Commission and the country which holds the EU Council Presidency at the time of the award ceremony, which this year is Denmark. The award honors inventive individuals and teams whose pioneering work provides answers to the challenges of our age and thereby contributes to progress and prosperity. Nomination proposals are submitted by the public and by patent examiners at the EPO and Europe’s national patent offices. The finalists and, subsequently, the winners are chosen from among the nominees by a high-profile international jury, which includes prominent personalities from politics, business, media, science, academia and research.

About the European Patent Office (EPO)

The European Patent Office (EPO) is one of the largest European institutions with almost 7,000 employees. Its headquarters are in Munich and it has offices in Berlin, Brussels, The Hague and Vienna. The EPO was founded with the aim of strengthening co-operation between the European states in the field of invention protection. Through the EPO’s centralized patent granting procedure, inventors are able to obtain patent protection in the 38 member states of the European Patent Organization. The EPO is the world’s leading authority in patent information and patent searching. In 2011, the EPO experienced a new record number of 244,000 patent filings and granted 62,115 European patents.


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