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#EuropeanInventorAwards honour 15 inventors

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The European Inventor Awards were held in Vienna, Austria on 20 June to honour 15 inventors from 12 different countries. The awards, hosted by the European Patent Office (EPO), were given to inventors in six different categories: Industry, Research, Non-EPO countries, Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs), Lifetime Achievement and Popular Prize, which is decided by public vote, writes David Kunz.

Industry

The finalists in the industry category were Austria’s Klaus Feichtinger and Manfred Hackl, Spain’s Antonio Corredor and Carlos Fermín Menéndez and the Netherland’s Alexander van der Lely and Karel van den Berg.

Feichtinger and Hackl won the award in this category for their innovation in plastic recycling. By rethinking the design of plastic recycling machines, the duo has increased the efficiency of plastic recycling and recycled plastic pellet production. These plastic pellets can then be used in the production of other products.

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In 2013, all machines their company produced switched over to this new design. Since then, they have sold between 1,600 to 1,800 machines and produce over 14.5 million tonnes of plastic pellets annually.

Research

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The finalists in the research category were France’s Jérôme Galon, Germany’s Matthias Mann and Italy’s Patrizia Paterlini-Bréchot.

Galon won the award for this category for his research into the relationship between the immune system and cancer treatment. His diagnostic tool, Immunoscore®, quantifies the strength of cancer patients’ immune system. The Immunoscore is calculated by measuring the immune response in cancerous tumors.

Galon has dedicated his work as an immunologist to analyze the immune response in cancer. For many years, Galon said the medical technology field misunderstood cancer treatment, as tumor evaluation and treatment was only the widely accepted approach to fighting the disease. “It was truly novel, the field was not ready for it,” said Galon. “All the treatments were trying to kill tumor cells… not to reactivate our immune system. Now it’s a totally new paradigm.”

Non-EPO

The finalists in the Non-EPO category were the United States’ Eben Bayer and Gavin McIntyre, Israel’s Amnon Shashua and the Mobileye team and Japan’s Akira Yoshino.

Yoshino won the award for inventing the lithium-ion battery, which is used to power over five billion phones among other devices. These rechargeable batteries revolutionized portable technology. The first lithium-ion battery was produced in 1983, and Yoshino filed a patent for his invention soon thereafter.

In 1991, Yoshino’s invention was commercialized after his patent was licensed to Sony. The basic patent for the original lithium-ion battery has expired, but Yoshino works continuously to create safer standards and increase efficiency of batteries.

SMEs

The finalists in the SME category were Norway’s Esben Beck, the Netherlands’ Rik Breur and the United Kingdom’s Richard Palmer, Philip Green.

Breur won the award for his antifouling fiber, which prevents the growth of marine life on boat hulls and focuses on making the ocean cleaner. Typically, toxic paints which pollute the ocean are used to discourage marine life from settling on boats. When marine life makes a boat hull their homes, it creates drag and increases fuel consumption.

Breur’s fiber acts like a carpet, attached to the hulled of ships. One one side, it sticks to the ship while on the other, it has prickly nylon spikes which are an unattractive surface for marine life to call home.

Lifetime Achievement

The finalists in the Lifetime achievement award were Spain’s Margarita Salas Falgueras, Austria’s Maximilian Haider and Poland’s Marta Karczewicz.

Salas Falgueras won the award for her discovery of the use of phi29 DNA polymerase, a bacterial virus which, when isolated, can amplify DNA. To sequence and understand DNA, it needs to be amplified and replicated - before Salas Falgueras, this was not possible.

She first applied for a patent in the United States in 1989, and the patent was granted in 1991 in the US, and 1997 in Europe. She had been examining the polymerase since 1967. The polymerase can be used in forensics, the medical field and more. Salas Falgueras, age 80, continues to explore the capabilities of the polymerase to this day.

Popular Prize

The popular prize, as voted by the public, was also awarded to Margarita Salas Falgueras for her discovery and application of the phi29 DNA polymerase.

Austria

Commission approves €1.6 million Austrian scheme to support public companies active in the pool and wellness sector in the context of the coronavirus outbreak

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The European Commission has approved a €1.6 million Austrian scheme to support public companies active in the pool and wellness sector affected by the coronavirus outbreak and the restrictive measures that the Austrian government had to implement to limit the spread of the virus. The measure was approved under the State aid Temporary Framework. Under the scheme, the aid will take the form of direct grants up to €400,000 per beneficiary.

The measure will be open to publicly owned micro, small and medium-sized enterprises active in the Salzburg region and operating a thermal or indoor swimming pool with sauna and/or wellness area. The public support will cover part of the fixed costs incurred by these companies during periods in which they experienced business disruption due to the restrictions in place. The purpose of the measure is to mitigate the sudden liquidity shortages that these companies are facing due to the coronavirus outbreak.

The Commission found that the Austrian scheme is in line with the conditions set out in the Temporary Framework. In particular, the aid (i) will not exceed €1.8m per beneficiary; and (ii) will be granted no later than 31 December 2021. The Commission concluded that the measure is necessary, appropriate and proportionate to remedy a serious disturbance in the economy of a member state, in line with Article 107(3)(b) TFEU and the conditions of the Temporary Framework. On this basis, the Commission approved the measure under EU state aid rules. More information on the Temporary Framework and other actions taken by the Commission to address the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic can be found here. The non-confidential version of the decision will be made available under the case number SA.64490 in the state aid register on the Commission's competition website once any confidentiality issues have been resolved.

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NextGenerationEU: European Commission endorses Austria's recovery and resilience plan

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The European Commission has adopted a positive assessment of Austria's recovery and resilience plan. This is an important step towards the EU disbursing €3.5 billion in grants under the Recovery and Resilience Facility. This financing will support the implementation of the crucial investment and reform measures outlined in Austria's recovery and resilience plan. It will help Austria emerge stronger from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The RRF – at the heart of NextGenerationEU – will provide up to €672.5 billion (in current prices) to support investments and reforms across the EU. The Austrian plan forms part of an unprecedented coordinated EU response to the COVID-19 crisis, to address common European challenges by embracing the green and digital transitions, to strengthen economic and social resilience and the cohesion of the Single Market.

Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said: “Today, the European Commission has decided to give its green light to Austria's recovery and resilience plan. Austria is already a forerunner in the green transition. By placing a special emphasis on investments and reforms that further support our climate objectives, Austria is making a clear statement. We have endorsed your plan because we fully agree that bold action is needed to deliver the green transition.”

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The Commission assessed Austria's plan based on the criteria set out in the RRF Regulation. The Commission's analysis considered, in particular, whether the investments and reforms set out in Austria's plan support the green and digital transitions; contribute to effectively addressing challenges identified in the European Semester; and strengthen its growth potential, job creation and economic and social resilience.

Securing Austria's green and digital transition  

The Commission's assessment finds that Austria's plan devotes 59% of the plan's total allocation to measures that support climate objectives. This includes reforms to Austria's tax system that target reducing CO2 emissions through incentives for climate friendly technologies, preferential tax rates for low- or zero- emission products, and pricing of CO2 emissions. These measures are flanked by targeted tax relief for companies and households in need. Other measures invest in energy efficiency, renewables, the decarbonisation of industry, biodiversity and circular economy. These investments are accompanied by related reforms, including the overhaul of the support framework for renewables and the phase-out of oil heating systems.

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The Commission's assessment of Austria's plan finds that it devotes 53% of its total allocation to measures that support the digital transition. This includes considerable investments into connectivity, with a particular focus on the widespread deployment of Gigabit-capable networks and the establishment of new symmetrical Gigabit connections in underserved, disadvantaged and rural areas. The plan also includes significant investments in the digitalisation of education, e-government and SMEs.

Reinforcing Austria's economic and social resilience

The Commission considers that Austria's plan includes an extensive set of mutually reinforcing reforms and investments that contribute to effectively addressing a significant subset of the economic and social challenges outlined in the country-specific recommendations addressed to Austria. The full-time labour market participation of women is expected to improve due to an increased availability of quality early childcare facilities. The long-recognised challenge related to the gender pension gap is tackled through measures in the plan. The plan addresses some of the social and economic challenges that have emerged or were exacerbated during the COVID-19 crisis. Targeted compensation of educational and learning deficits due to the pandemic will combat an increase in inequalities in education outcomes. A series of active labour market policy measures are expected to address the increased need for help to the low-skilled and raise the labour market opportunities of disadvantaged groups.

The plan represents a comprehensive and adequately balanced response to Austria's economic and social situation of Austria, thereby contributing appropriately to all six pillars referred to in the RRF Regulation.

An Economy that Works for People Executive Vice President Valdis Dombrovskis (pictured) said: “We have today endorsed Austria's recovery plan to create a more equitable, digital and sustainable economy. This plan strikes the right balance, with over half of total allocation geared towards climate objectives, such as investments to retire outdated oil and gas heating systems, support emission-free public transport and safeguard biodiversity. The plan will also drive forward digital connectivity in Austria and help foster pupils' digital skills. I especially welcome measures to lend a hand to low-skilled and disadvantaged groups thanks to targeted labour market opportunities, and to make it easier for women to work full-time.”

Supporting flagship investment and reform projects

The Austrian plan proposes projects in seven European flagship areas. These are specific investment projects which address issues that are common to all Member States in areas that create jobs and growth and are needed for the twin transition. For instance, Austria has proposed to invest €159 million to retire outdated oil and gas heating systems and €543 million on the construction of new train lines and the electrification of existing ones. 

Economy Commissioner Paolo Gentiloni said: “Austria's recovery and resilience plan contains a truly wide-ranging set of initiatives that will improve the lives of citizens and the competitiveness of businesses in all parts of the country. Measures include the important eco-social tax reform - an excellent example of how taxation policies can help to protect our climate in a way that is socially fair. Together with measures like the phase-out of oil heating systems and the mobility masterplan, Austria will receive a strong boost in its efforts to be climate-neutral by 2040. I also welcome reforms will support health and long-term care, childcare facilities and education.”

The assessment also finds that none of the measures included in the plan significantly harm the environment, in line with the requirements laid out in the RRF Regulation.

The control systems put in place by Austria are considered adequate to protect the financial interests of the Union. The plan provides sufficient details on how national authorities will prevent, detect and correct instances of conflict of interest, corruption and fraud relating to the use of funds.

Next steps

The Commission has today adopted a proposal for a Council Implementing Decision to provide €3.5 billion in grants to Austria under the RRF. The Council will now have, as a rule, four weeks to adopt the Commission's proposal.

The Council's approval of the plan would allow for the disbursement of €450 million to Austria in pre-financing. This represents 13% of the total allocated amount for Austria.

The Commission will authorise further disbursements based on the satisfactory fulfilment of the milestones and targets outlined in the Council Implementing Decision, reflecting progress in the implementation of the investments and reforms. 

For More Information

Questions and Answers: European Commission endorses Austria's recovery and resilience plan

Recovery and Resilience Facility: Questions and Answers

Factsheet on Austria's recovery and resilience plan

Proposal for a Council Implementing Decision on the approval of the assessment of the recovery and resilience plan for Austria

Annex to the Proposal for a Council Implementing Decision on the approval of the assessment of the recovery and resilience plan for Austria

Staff-working document accompanying the proposal for a Council Implementing Decision

Recovery and Resilience Facility

Recovery and Resilience Facility Regulation

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NextGenerationEU: President von der Leyen in Austria and Slovakia to present Commission assessment of national recovery plans

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Today (21 June), Commission President Ursula von der Leyen (pictured) will continue her NextGenerationEU tour in Austria and Slovakia, to personally hand over the result of the Commission's assessment and Recommendation to the Council on the approval of the national recovery and resilience plans in the context of NextGenerationEU. On Monday morning, she will be in Vienna for a meeting with the Chancellor of Austria, Sebastian Kurz. Later that day, the President will travel to Bratislava, where she will be received by Eduard Heger, Prime Minister of the Slovak Republic. She will also meet Zuzana Čaputová, President of the Slovak Republic, and Boris Kollár, Speaker of the National Council, together with Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič. In both countries, the President will visit projects that are or will be funded under the Recovery and Resilience Facility, focused on science and the green transition in Slovakia, and on quantum technology in Austria.

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