Winners of the European Inventor Award 2010 honoured in Madrid: pioneers in waste product reuse, laser scanners, carbon molecules, fuel cells and GPS systems

Bioplastics, football-shaped molecules, GPS technology, hydrogen fuels cells and three-dimensional scanning systems - the fields covered by the winners of the European Inventor Award 2010 range from ecology and nuclear physics to information systems and satellite-based navigation. The European Patent Office (EPO) and the European Commission today honoured the five prizewinners from Germany, Switzerland, the USA and Canada at a gala ceremony in Madrid under the presidency of their Royal Highnesses Prince Felipe and Princess Letizia of Asturias.

The winners of the European Inventor Award 2010 are:

Wolfgang Krätschmer (Germany), who discovered a whole new field of research in physics, for which he has been honoured in the Lifetime achievement category. He devised a process for producing fullerenes (a new class of carbon molecules) for research purposes, laying the foundations for the creation of new materials. He did the groundwork that allowed these spherical molecules comprising 60 carbon atoms (C60 molecules, also known as "soccer ball molecules" or buckyballs) to be properly investigated. Soon hundreds of new applications for fullerenes were being patented. Thanks to their thermal stability and their semiconducting and superconducting properties, fullerenes are now used all over the world in innovative lubricants, fuels and superconductors.

Jürgen Pfitzer and Helmut Nägele (Germany), in the SMEs/research category. With their Arboform liquid wood they made a breakthrough in the sustainable use of renewable resources. The source of their material is lignin, which is generated in large quantities during paper and pulp production. In combination with other natural fibres, lignin can be made into an easily formable, biodegradable organic polymer. Demand for Arboform is especially high in the car industry, where with its wood-like appearance and high malleability it opens up new prospects in interior design. It is also used in furniture, toys and watches.

Albert Markendorf (Switzerland) and Raimund Loser (Germany), in the Industry category. Their 3D scanning and measuring system opened up a new level of accuracy in industrial measuring systems and revolutionised the field. Their portable laser scanner not only measures distances, it can also determine the angle at which the laser beam is reflected. The three-dimensional result offers unprecedented accuracy and efficiency in laser-based scanning systems, typically in design and development processes in the car industry. Railway companies and aircraft manufacturers too now use this scanning technique for quality control purposes.

Sanjai Kohli and Steven Chen (USA), in the Non-European countries category. Thanks to their work, GPS systems can now also be used commercially and are a part of our everyday lives. They developed the powerful but inexpensive chips which first allowed satellite signals to be put to effective use. The technology they devised triggered off explosive growth in the market for GPS devices and laid the foundations for their commercial use in cars, planes, ships and mobile phones.

Ben Wiens and Danny Epps, two Canadians who developed electrochemical fuel cells which are now a commercially successful alternative to fossil fuels, for which they too have been honoured in the Non-European countries category. The cells they invented function at low operating temperatures and so do not need energy-intensive cooling. That was a decisive step on the road to greener energy: since 2004 buses with a hydrogen fuel cell drive have been running in 15 cities around the world, including Amsterdam, Barcelona, London, Madrid and twenty of them were in service at the Winter Olympics in Vancouver. The fuel cells are also indispensable as emergency power supplies in telecommunication systems in Canada, the EU and India.

Commission Vice President Antonio Tajani, responsible for enterprise and industry policy said: "The 'European Inventor of the Year awards' highlight that Europe continues to be leading in providing breakthrough inventions. These are striking examples how technical innovation and marketing strategies can successfully interact for the benefit of the economy. Moreover the lives of millions of people around the world have been improved again."

"The success of these inventions is an incentive to intensify our future efforts to maintain the quality of European patents as an effective instrument in the protection of innovation", said EPO President Alison Brimelow.


This is the fifth time that the highly regarded innovation prizes have been awarded by the European Patent Office in conjunction with the European Commission. There are four categories: Lifetime achievement, SMEs/research, Industry and Non-European countries. The awards, which are purely symbolic and involve no material recompense, honour inventive individuals and teams whose pioneering work provides answers to the challenges of our age and thereby contributes to progress and prosperity. Nomination proposals can be submitted by the public and by patent examiners at the European Patent Office and Europe's national patent offices, and the winners are chosen from among the nominees by a high-calibre international jury.

To find out more about the European Inventor Award 2010 and the winners, go to:

Brussels/Munich/Madrid, 28 April 2010