The father of laser eye surgery, an Austrian railway track-laying entrepreneur and the developer of shoes that solved the problem of smelly feet have all been nominated in the Lifetime Achievement category of the European Inventor Award (EIA).
Ophthalmology pioneer and University of Heidelberg professor Josef Bille invented the groundbreaking eye-correction method LASIK, which has helped countless patients worldwide as a treatment for short and long-sightedness and astigmatism. Bille faces steely competition from engineer Dr Josef Theurer – filer of 1,050 different patent families and founder of the world’s leading supplier of railway track-laying machines, Plasser & Theurer. The company accounts for 6% of Austria’s exports across the machinery, iron, steel and construction industries. Third nominee Mario Polegato brings a certain freshness to proceedings as founder of Italy’s GEOX company, which revolutionised the footwear industry (and nostrils) with its improved, vapour-permeable shoe.
Granted annually by the European Patent Office (EPO), EIAs acknowledge outstanding inventors for their contributions to technological, social and economic progress. They also aim to drive awareness of the patent system and highlight its role in ensuring that inventors receive proper recognition for their output.
Alongside the Lifetime Achievement Award, there are four other categories: Industry, Research, Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs) and Non-European Countries. The 12 nominees across those fields are no less diverse, having produced innovations in fields such as medicine and building materials. For example, UK professor Jason Chin is entered in Research for his work with Australian professor Oliver Rackham to create a way of controlling cellular protein functions with unprecedented precision, transforming treatments of a variety of cancers. And Germany’s three-time Admirals Cup-winning yachtsman, Dr Stefan Lehnert, was included in SMEs for his Ethylene-Tetrafluoroethylene-based roof and cladding solutions, which have pushed the boundaries of architecture as part of Cornwall’s Eden Project and a host of other innovative structures.
Hailing the nominees, EPO President Benoît Battistelli said: ‘Patents play a key role in stimulating innovation, in securing jobs and advancing society. Behind every invention, there are men and women – driven by the passion of discovery – to whom the EPO would like to pay tribute. They are the true heroes of the 21st Century economy.’
The EIA 2012 winners will be announced at a ceremony in Copenhagen on 14th June.