The four winners of the European Inventor of the Year 2008 award have been revealed at a gala event in Slovenia as part of the European Patent Forum.
Entries included a ground-breaking Aids treatment, a lighter and more environmentally friendly aluminium car frame, a pain-free laser scanner for the eye and a robot designed to overhaul medical surgery.
The awards were jointly instituted by the European Commission and the European Patent Office, and are considered to be one of Europe's top innovation prizes.
"All winners of the European Inventor of the Year 2008 award developed truly groundbreaking inventions," said Gunter Verheugen, vice president of the European Commission.
"They are evidence of Europe's innovative strength and competitiveness. Promoting innovation remains a top priority for creating jobs and growth."
The international jury considered inventions patented and successfully marketed between 1993 and 2002, looking for innovations that have made a significant and lasting contribution to technical progress in Europe and beyond.
"The award winners have excelled in their creative achievements, and their success demonstrates the importance of patent protection in the invention process," said Alison Brimelow, president of the European Patent Office.
"If we want to tackle climate change or develop new ways of treating diseases, we need a quality-oriented patent system which stimulates and sustains innovation.
"The intellectual property system can be a pivotal element in the efficient diffusion of cutting-edge technologies, as this year's awards clearly demonstrate."
The jury selected the winners in the following categories:
Industry: Audi's Norbert Enning, Ulrich Klages, Heinrich Timm, Gundolf Kreis, Alois Feldschmid, Christian Dornberg and Karl Reiter (Germany) for revolutionising automotive manufacturing by making car frames lighter and safer through the use of aluminium.
SMEs and Research: Douglas Anderson, Robert Henderson and Roger Lucas of Scotland's SME Optos (UK) for developing a new laser scanning technology for the eye which allows powerful but pain-free examination of the retina.
Lifetime Achievement: Erik De Clercq of the University of Leuven (Belgium) for landmark contributions to antiviral treatment, including the development of the drug cocktail for Aids which has become the gold standard of our day.
Non-European Inventors: SRI International's Philip S. Green (US) for developing a robotic surgical system that has helped to improve surgery in Europe by allowing surgeons to perform complex procedures with the highest precision.
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