June 21st, 2012
06:30 PM GMT
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Copenhagen (CNN) - Meeting the men and women whose inventions have changed how we live our lives seems a world away from the daily bombardment of news on the state of Europe’s economy.

While the markets were reeling over Spain’s bank bailout, and trading floor chatter was Greece, Italy and what the European Central Bank can, can’t or should do, the Marketplace Europe team was at the European Inventor Awards in Copenhagen.

It was truly inspirational and refreshing to think about business without focusing on what has gone wrong, how companies are struggling and what impact this is having on the global economy.

We found the focus for Europe’s inventors is on finding new solutions, products and markets to move into, before established ones run out of steam. And they are doing it out of necessity.

Event organiser Oswald Schroeder was blunt: “If Europe does not innovate, all that will be left for our children is tourism,” he told CNN.

The European Inventor Awards were set up six years ago by the Munich-based European Patent Office (EPO).

The EPO received 244,437 applications in 2011, an increase of 3.7% on the previous year. That compares with a drop of 7% in 2009 following the credit crunch.

It shows companies are investing and spending on research and development to help their companies - and ultimately the economy - grow.

Patents help inventors protect their ideas from competitors and copycats. But there's a lot of red tape and it gets expensive outside local markets. Benoit Battistelli, president of the EPO, said finalizing a harmonized, European patent process is on the agenda at the upcoming European Union Summit.

“When you look at Europe, there are no raw materials [and] we can’t compete on labour costs,” he said. “The real advantage is with innovation and for that patent is a very efficient tool.”

However, he added, “we have to improve our system on two sides, Firstly, it is too costly and a unitary patent [ones that are valid across countries] will reduce that cost by 70%. Secondly it is having a litigation system that is unified for Europe.”

Among others, we met the Australian inventors of Wifi (up for the non-European award), the Dutch team from Delft University who have made new discoveries in waste water management, the firm behind Geox, the permeable shoe that solves the problem of smelly feet, and the man who invented laser-eye surgery.

Professor Hugo Katus, from Heidelberg University in Germany, developed a ground-breaking blood test for heart attacks. He said the secret to being a successful inventor is to work as part of a team. “You have to have a really bright idea and cooperate with partners [who] support you,” he told CNN.

The laser technology Chamisa, pioneered and developed by Danish, family-run firm Widex, transformed the hearing loss industry when it first came out in the 1990s. It made hearing aids more discreet and better fitting for the clearest possible sound. Widex has been around since 1956, is the world’s 6th biggest manufacturer of hearing aids and holds more than 150 patents worldwide for up-to-the-minute ear science.

Its chief executive, Jan Topholm, told me: “To find new ways to improve hearing aids requires inventiveness - and once you invent something you need to patent it. To be inventive you have to think of something that has not been thought of before.”

He added, “We’ve much better access to things already made through the internet, it is easier to search and this is an advantage but also an obstacle because you find somebody had that thought of it before and then you have to give it up”.

Whoever has the good idea then faces the potentially frustrating process of getting the product to market.

Dr. Farouk Tedjar, President of RECUPYL, a company which extracts lithium from batteries for recycling, said he sometimes feels like he is going around in circles trying to get his business off the ground.

“You need money and people don't trust you unless you have the facility, but you can't get the facility unless you have money. But also you need the patent because that gets you recognition,” he said.

Progress is being made on a global system to handle intellectual property, which took a leap forward last September when a law was passed in the U.S.

The America Invents Act is important because the traditional “first to invent” rule in the U.S. has been replaced with the “first to file” priority which is how it works elsewhere around the world.

The European Inventor Awards go some way to recognising where Europe's strengths lie - turning inventions into economic assets which, in turn, creates jobs.

soundoff (3 Responses)
  1. Voiceinthedesert/Troubledgoodangel

    Inventions come in many forms, the greatest of them being a single idea. As some of you have heard, I have recently put forward the idea of "Equivalent Money", to save the world's economy. I believe that my idea is worth 10 billion dollars in gold. But how do I protect it from being stolen? Is there a way to proof that this is my idea? Is not what follows, a proof? Here it is: With this post I present my "Equivalent Money" plan for the world to the view of the world economy leaders. I am introducing a completely new way of thinking, wherein the equivalent money serves as a booster and enabler for world economy and individual nations' economies. This is a value greater that gold, and is therefore "equivalent" to a currency. The new supplementary world "currency" should be color "mountain bells' violet", which is the color of God. It should resemble the dollar, including in value, but it would be non-redeemable and non-exchangeable. It would have strictly bartering value, being thus a godsend to the economies of the poorer countries. It would be somewhat like the foods stamps, but not it at all. It would have a bartering value in the sense that those who have it, could exchange it for goods all over the world. It would be added to the budgets of all the nations in the world as a new tool to confront unemployment, national debt escalation, rebuilding of infrastructures, desalinization plants, and poverty. It should be added in adequate amounts according to a fair formula, doubling if need be national budgets. Nations, anyone for that matter, could then hire workers, to produce goods that others need, and to pay their salaries partly in Equivalent Money, including the Social Security deposits. The doctors could accept this currency in payment for of services, and then purchase new equipment with this "new" money. This would revolutionize Medicare and Medicaid. No armaments could be purchased with the Equivalent Money, since it is destined to be a tool of universal peace and prosperity! No one will loose a penny with this idea, no individual, and no nation! The "currency" is the only solution for the future world economies! It will revolutionize the world, bringing new hope to all nations, including the poorest! The poor nations could hire expert workers, and pay them in Equivalent Money, which the latter could then barter for whatever they need anywhere in the world. I believe that the time is now to enact this idea without delay! It will hurt no one, but it will change the world as we know it, for ever! I ask the leaders of the world not to discard my idea, but to give it serious consideration. Voiceinthedesert [BJS]
    PS: Wiem, że ta myśl jest "nowa" i że dlatego nie ma jej w podręcznikach. Zbliża się w koncepcji do "bartering", which is an old idea. Jednak przekracza bartering tysiąckroć w tym, że jest to bartering nie produkt za produkt, ale produkt za Equivalent Money, i w tym, że pokrywa cały świat, bez wyjątku, ... wrogów włącznie. Cała w tym rzecz, by przyspieszyć pokój. Wrogowie mogą nie skorzystać, ale byliby niemądrzy [added July 28, 2012, by Voiceinthedesert [BJS]

    July 28, 2012 at 3:45 pm |
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    October 9, 2012 at 3:33 pm |
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    Quite right! It seems to me it is good idea. I agree with you.

    November 4, 2012 at 1:27 pm |

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Quest Means Business airs Monday to Friday, 1600 New York and 2100 London, and is hosted by Richard Quest.



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