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Geneva hosts annual celebration of ingenuity

Inventors' ideas can seem a little absurd, such as this dog washing machine Keystone Archive

It is said that the only inexhaustible raw material that humans have is grey matter. That will be in evidence this week as Geneva hosts the world's biggest inventions fair. Visitors will be able to discover the gadgets that, in the not too distant future, they will not be able to live without.

This content was published on April 4, 2001 - 07:43

The organisers of the "International Exhibition of Inventions, New Techniques and Products" boast that "nowhere exists where it is possible to find so much knowledge in so many different fields".

Over the next five days, the fair will host a record 725 exhibitors from over 40 countries, including more than 50 from Switzerland. Altogether, 1,000 new inventions will be presented.

Among the 65,000 visitors attending will be a large number of businesspeople looking for new inventions to manufacture or market. They come knowing that none of the innovations on show has ever been exhibited before.

The event is seen as an increasingly important way for the people with bright ideas and the people who can develop them commercially to get together. Some inventions may never get further than the drawing board, but several are sure to become an everyday part of our lives.

The regulations stipulate that an invention can only be shown in Geneva once, and that it must have a patent.

"These criteria guarantee that visitors will only discover new products which are ready to be commercialised," says Jean-Luc Vincent, president of the exhibition. "We're here to provide an international meeting point that enables inventions to reach the market quickly and for the good of all."

The organisers say that a survey of last year's participants revealed that licences were negotiated for the sale, manufacture, distribution or marketing of more than 45 per cent of the inventions shown. The business value of these contracts exceeded $30 million (SFr52 million)

"Our experience shows that the author of an invention has just one preoccupation: commercialising it," Vincent explains.

Most of the exhibitors are members of the research departments of high-tech companies, institutes or state bodies, although 35 per cent of them are independent. The notion of the part-time inventor pottering away in his garage, it seems, is still an accurate one.

Before being exhibited in Geneva the inventions are subjected to strict selection at national level, which is supervised by representatives of the exhibition.

This year's more intriguing inventions include a device for humanely killing lobsters, a portable X-ray machine, a new technique for laying bricks, a device for ventilating toilet seats, a "harpoon" corkscrew, and a set of skis that allow users to walk on water.

Some are the result of years of painstaking research. Others are simple solutions to everyday problems.

The exhibition is also a contest. An international jury of 68 experts examines all the inventions exhibited before awarding the coveted Grand Prix to the best. Last year's winner was a flood defence system from Sweden.

Jean-Luc Vincent says it is impossible to predict which will be the highlights of this year's fair: "The areas of activity they cover are extremely varied and the problems they resolve are not the same."

The inventions fall into no fewer than 22 categories, taking in the entire gamut of human activity, from engineering to toys and from sanitation to textiles. The largest category is health and medicine, although there has been a big increase in the number of exhibits in the electronic section.

The Geneva fair has been involved in setting up inventions exhibitions in Senegal and Italy, and is in the process of helping to create similar events in Moscow, Seoul and Bucharest.

The Geneva Inventions fair runs until Sunday, April 8.

by Roy Probert

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