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Geneva turns into magnet for gadgets

The world's most important inventions fair is underway in Geneva, with nearly 700 exhibitors from over 40 countries showing off the gadgets that you won't be able to live without in five year's time.

The world's most important inventions fair has opened in Geneva, with nearly 700 exhibitors from over 40 countries showing off the gadgets that you won't be able to live without in five year's time.

The International Exhibition of Inventions, New Techniques and Products, to give it its full title, is now in its 28th year. Among the 65,000 people who will visit the show over the next five days, many will be merely curious. But a sizeable proportion will represent businesses, eager to unearth the product that the world cannot do without.

"They know that they're going to find the very latest innovations, because we do not accept an invention twice in Geneva," said Anne Loertscher of the Inventors' Fair. "And that is why they come in their tens of thousands."

To many, the word inventor conjures up the image of an eccentric building a time-machine in his garden shed. Loertscher is keen to dispel this idea: "All inventors, whatever they invent - be it a spider-catcher or a complex chemical composite - deserve our respect. It's our job to commercialise their inventions and put them in contact with precisely those people who are looking for products to market."

She says that experience has shown that the main preoccupation of the inventors is finding a company that will manufacture and market their product. The seriousness of this business has been reflected in the changing nature of the exhibitors.

"Five years ago, there were more private inventors than companies. Now we have many more companies than private individuals," Loertscher says. The other notable point is that, in many countries, there is now selection of the inventions before they can come to Geneva. Government bodies or private companies choose the inventions they're going to send, so that only the best ones from their countries come to Geneva."

The inventions on display at this year's fair are varied. They range from complex mechanical or chemical formulae to things with more practical everyday uses: Devices for removing the stones from prunes; a system for recycling bathwater and a cane for blind people which transmits messages telling them about their surroundings.

The inventions fall into 22 categories, ranging from industrial processes to textiles, from watchmaking to surgery. No fewer than 35 prizes are on offer to the best innovations. The Inventor's Fair is at Geneva's Palexpo exhibition centre until Friday.

by Roy Probert

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