EU Innovators Solving Environmental Challenges

For the Munich-based European Patent Office (EPO), the withdrawal of the U.S. President Donald from the Paris Agreement on Climate Change is not the end of the world. The President of the 38-Member-State European public institution Benoît Battistelli said “Innovation is the most effective way to find solutions for problems related to climate change” during the European Inventor Award (IEA) in Venice this week, writes Eli Hadzhieva.

He said “Contrary to beliefs in the EU’s decline, the EU is becoming a hub for innovation”, adding that “U.S. applicants constitute only 25% of all EPO applicants, while one-third of patent applicants in the U.S. are of European origin.” The new unitary patent to start in early 2018, is likely to render European patterns more attractive, strengthening the European patent system by protection in 26 countries with one application, cost reduction and litigation mechanisms.

According to a study by European Union Intellectual Property Office and European Patent Office, IPR-intensive industries generated 42% of the GDP in the EU, with a value of EUR 5.7 trillion, a trade surplus of EUR 96.4 billion and 28% of all the jobs in the EU during the period 2011-2013.

Having the aim of promoting innovation and enhancing Europe’s competition, the EPO distributes the Oscars of science and technology to innovative minds that come up with new solutions to our societal challenges and celebrates their outstanding contributions to technological progress every year through a prestigious award.

The 12th EIA ceremony, which took place in the Venetian Arsenal on 15 June, saw the catwalk of distinguished inventors from 12 countries in 5 categories: Lifetime achievement, industry, research, Non-European countries and SMEs. A 6th category involved the popular prize, which was granted to Moroccan scientist Adnane Remmal for his work on natural antibiotics by public vote.

The patented inventions of the 15 finalists, competing for this year’s awards, included life-saving medical advances, materials to protect our environment, such as green plastics, and satellite navigation. More than half of the awards were granted in the field of medicine, which is the largest field of technology. Jan van den Boogaart and Oliver Hayden (Netherlands, Austria), the pan-European Galileo engineering team headed by Laurent Lestarquit and Jose Angel Avila Rodriguez and James G. Fujimoto, Eric A. Swanson and Robert Huber (USA, Germany) were some of the winners.

The lifetime achievement award, granted to Rino Rappualti by Italy’s Minister of Economic Development Carlo Calenda, came of no surprise. The 64-year-old Italian scientist invented next-generation vaccines against meningitis, whooping cough, diphtheria, eradicating these infectious diseases in the developed world. A founder of cellular microbiology, he created the world’s first genome-derived vaccines, revolutionising vaccine design.

He is a pioneer of conjugate vaccines, which focuses on attaching bacteria to carrier proteins and activating both B-cells and T-cells rather than using weakened pathogens. He also invented reverse vaccinology, privileging vaccine design on a computer rather than in laboratories, which allows for thousands of genome sequences to be analysed in a day on a computer rather than during 15 months in a lab.

In an interview Rappualti explained that he started his career as an inventor out of frustration, with a desire to stop children’s death by infectious diseases. While hopeful for technological advancements regarding cancer prevention through future synthetic and personalised vaccines, such as RNA, the scientist said that more can be done in poor countries with limited return on investment through charitable organisations and companies, such as Wellcome Trust, Melinda and Bill Gates Foundation and GSK.

Another striking invention, which was awarded, was the super-wax used for the cleaning of oil spills, with an absorption capacity 7 times its weight. Unlike Corexit, a product used during oil spill response operations in the Gulf of Mexico to push the oil to the depths of the ocean, PURE absorbs the oil on the surface, allowing for its separation and re-use in the refinery process. In an interview, the team of the German inventor Günter Hufschmid explained proudly how they collaborated with a catamaran using PURE on its net to drive through and to clean the oceans and how they helped cleaning platforms in Scotland and preserving Niger Delta.

Once again Europeans seem to have found more effective ways than their American counterparts to protect the environment. This gives renewed hope for the future of our planet, whether Trump is taking or not taking part in the game.

Eli Hadzhieva is the founder of the Brussels-based NGO Dialogue for Europe, an independent blogger and a former parliamentary attaché at the European Parliament and consultant at the OECD.

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Gary Cartwright

Gary Cartwright

Gary Cartwright is publishing editor of EU Today. 

An experienced journalist and published author, he specialises in environment, energy, and defence.

He also has more than 10 years experience of working as a staff member in the EU institutions, working with political groups and MEPs in various policy areas.

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