The Danish minister for business and growth, Ole Sohn, welcomed the audience packed into the auditorium of the Royal Danish Playhouse by saying that he regarded these awards as the patent industry’s Oscars. And the ceremony had many things in common with Hollywood’s Academy Awards.
Each time a nominee was announced a spotlight focused on the inventor and his family or colleagues, projecting them on to the screen on stage. They smiled nervously, clearly not used to the spotlight (literal or metaphorical). And as the winner was revealed, a drum roll heightened the attention.
One winner, Manfred Stefener in the SME category, played the part particularly well, kissing his beaming wife and two children before ascending to the stage. As he read out his acceptance speech, his eldest – still just a toddler – shouted out “Papa!” from the second row.
Stefener, with his colleagues Oliver Freitag and Jens Müller, won for their pioneering fuel cell research, and two themes of the awards were batteries and mobile communications.
Farouk Tedjar and Jean-Claude Foudraz were nominated in the same category for their work on effective battery recycling, while the inventors of WiFi won the non-EU category and the team behind Bluetooth were nominated in the industry category.
The WiFi team was John O’Sullivan and Terence Percival from Australia, who in their acceptance speech described the Crown Princess of Denmark as a far more remarkable Australian export. The Princess, who was born in Hobart, Australia, and her husband the Crown Prince were in attendance and presented the final award, for lifetime achievement.
Josef Bille from the University of Heidelberg in Germany, who pioneered laser-eye surgery techniques throughout his career, won that award. In his acceptance speech he teased the Crown Prince for Denmark’s loss the previous night in the Euro 2012 football tournament. “I saw you on TV, you were there in the Ukraine weren’t you?” he said, before reminding the Prince that Germany won the same night, against The Netherlands.
The other winners were Gilles Gosselin and his team in the research category, for a drug to treat Hepatitis B, and the Danish group behind tailor-made hearing devices that mould to a patient’s ear – Jan Tøpholm, Søren Westermann and Sven Vitting Andersen.
The EPO European Inventor Awards have been held every year since 2006 in cooperation with the European Commission and the country that holds the EU Council Presidency – currently, Denmark.
Details on the nominees, including the videos shown at the event describing each team’s inventions, are available on the EPO website.