I've just returned from the prestigious EPO Inventor Awards 2016. It is probably the most important competition of its kind and it honours the creativity of inventors the world over, who use their technical, scientific and intellectual skills to make a real contribution to technological progress and economic growth and so improve people's daily lives. In past years, a number of winners have subsequently received the Nobel Prize.
This year's nominations were of a typically high standard and ranged from artificial implantable hearts to a secure method of smart-card encryption and to environmentally friendly paper transistors.
Each year, a different European country is chosen to host the event and this time it was Portugal's turn. It was an excellent choice, not only because the Portuguese are exceptionally hospitable but also because their Prime Minister, Antonio Costa, is a former intellectual property (IP) attorney and is passionate about the importance of IP to the Portuguese economy. Just a few years ago Portugal's economy, he admitted in his keynote address, was based on the production of counterfeit goods. He saw that there was no sustainable future unless the Portuguese started to innovate. He was proud to announce that this year, Portuguese patent filings have increased by a whacking (my word, not his) 21%! I was particularly impressed that the Prime Minister not only spoke, but stayed for the whole Awards ceremony. To me, that spoke volumes about his commitment to IP. I was also delighted that the UK's own Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and Minister for IP, Baroness Neville Rolfe, was able to attend, and spoke at the event. As far as I know, she was the only overseas minister to attend and it looked very good! Maybe, if we are still in the EU, the EPO will choose the UK to host the 2017 Awards?
The President of the EPO, Benoit Battistelli, made a good speech. Portugal was historically famous for its explorers and, Mr Battistelli pointed out that it was appropriate to be celebrating this year's Awards in Lisbon because inventors are the explorers of the modern world.
In the past, the 'explorers' were celebrated and we all know the names Pasteur, Morse and Edison but the great inventors of today largely go unrecognised, their achievements taken for granted. This was the main theme of the speech from Carlos Moedas, the European Commissioner for Research, Science and Innovation. He used the example of Hedy Lamarr, who is famous for her acting career but, few people are aware that she also invented Spread Spectrum Technology and was a pioneer in the field of wireless communications during the Second World War. Mr Moedas, I believe, spoke for the entire audience when he stated how important it is for today's inventors and their inventions to be celebrated and that the EPO Inventor Awards were therefore hugely important.
Each year, in the evening before the Awards ceremony, there is a grand reception. As a member of the jury panel for the past three years, I have had the pleasure of attending these events. This year the party was held in the magnificent two story cloisters of the Jerónimo Monastery in Belem. It was a fabulous event. Built in 1502 during the Age of Discovery, the Monastery houses the tombs of many famous people from Portuguese history and most notably the explorer Vasco Da Gama. Its elegant white columns, carved with nautical and sea motifs, glowed in the sunset and finally sparkled white against the night sky, whilst the champagne flowed and a good time was had by all.
Typically Portuguese, the food was fantastic and abundant. The deserts including the mouth watering "Pastes de Belem". (If you have never eaten these, put Lisbon on your bucket list!). There is a famous pastry shop almost next door to Monastery Jerónimo called 'Pastes de Belem' after which this delicious little custard tart is named. People queue just to get a sniff!
We partied into the night and, very considerately, the Awards ceremony didn't start until 11.00 the next morning. I was delighted that the UK's Helen Lee won the Popular Prize. Her low cost and easy to read diagnostic kits designed for developing countries, won two thirds of the public vote.
Given that so many significant inventions emanate from the UK, and that this is such a prestigious event, covered by the global news, more great British Patentees should be encouraged to enter the EPO Inventor Awards for 2017. Nominations are now open!
Learn more about all the finalists and their inspirational inventions at: