Rewarding innovation: Prague hosts European Inventor of the Year awards

Bartolomej Janek, photo:

The winners of the European Inventor of the Year awards are due to be announced in a ceremony at Prague Castle on Tuesday evening, with 12 inventors nominated in four categories. The award is granted by the European Commission and European Patent Office, and aims to recognise the people who are pioneering solutions to today’s global challenges – a task that’s all the more difficult under the present economic circumstances. Rob Cameron has been speaking to two of the nominees: Bartolomej Janek from Slovakia, and Koen Meijer from the Netherlands.

Bartolomej Janek: “My name is Bartolomej Janek. I’m working in the field of precision mechanics, especially R&D of precision gears. The majority scope for us is the robotic industry.”

Koen Meijer: “My name is Koen Meijer. I work in the research department of a steel-making plant, and my invention is a new way of producing iron from its natural raw material, iron ore.”

Would the man in the street ever notice one of your inventions?

BJ: “That’s difficult to say. Usually it’s not very visible. Those who are involved in this technology, they can recognise it.”

KM: “I don’t think in a very direct way. If my invention will be applied, I think it will mainly have long-term effects, maybe on the environment or on the competitive position of our industry.”

Do you think the same reverence and respect is given to the inventors of today – people like yourselves – as was afforded the Edisons and the Teslas of the past?

KM: “I would not dare to compare myself with those people you mention! I think you can say it bluntly – research is just a job. Fortunately my company also thinks it’s an important job. An invention is never the work of one person - it is really a long development in a project with the cooperation with many, many people besides myself.”

BJ: “That’s absolutely right. The inventor is the person who is visible, but usually behind him is a lot of people. Of course someone is the first to come up with the idea, but then a lot of very tough work is necessary to bring the idea to reality.”

You’re here to attend the European Inventor of the Year award, of which you are both nominees, in two different categories. What does an award like this mean to inventors like yourselves?

BJ: “In events like this I always realise all the tough points in our professional lives. I would say it keeps us on the ground. It’s very nice, and one has a very nice feeling from being nominated, of course.”

KM: “Personally I’m very happy with this nomination, and it’s recognition for many years of hard work. But I think also it has a positive spin-off for the development, for the project I work on, and I certainly see that it gives a lot of extra attention that is very badly needed to keep a project like this on track, to raise funding, to raise attention both inside companies and inside the European Union.”

You mention funding – obviously we’re living through one of the worst global economic recessions in decades. What effect does that have on the whole field of innovation?

KM: Personally with the development I’m working on we’re very lucky that this money has already been committed. At the moment we’re working in a European project with several partners, also with the support of the European Community, so that funding is secured. Certainly finding new funding in the present economic conditions will be more difficult, and we also see that.”

BJ: “The current economic situation touches everyone. But on the other hand, these devices are needed, and in the future will be needed, so I think that’s a great potential for us also for the future. Because research and development is a never-ending story. It never stops.”