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Inventing is serious business

A folding carbon alp horn was one of the clever ideas from previous expos

(Keystone Archive)

There are fewer gadgets and more commercially viable applications at the world's biggest inventions fair in Geneva, which runs through Sunday.

The Geneva International Exhibition of Inventions is now in its 30th year, a tribute to one of the world's priceless resources - our grey matter.

"Nowhere else does there exist an exhibition where you can find so much knowledge in so many different areas," boasts Jean-Luc Vincent, the founder and president of the event.

On display will be 1,000 completely new inventions, presented by 700 exhibitors from 40 countries. Each innovation must be protected by a national patent and must be being shown for the first time.

Wacky vs mundane

But these inventors hardly ever conform to the stereotype of the slightly nutty inventor beavering away in his garden shed. The number of private individuals showing their creations in Geneva has steadily fallen, though it still stands at 35 per cent.

The types of invention are also changing - this year the category for "practical novelties" has only half the number of exhibits it had in 2001. The wacky are far outnumbered by the mundane.

For every device to crack open an egg or open an oyster, there is an ant-sized robot for repairing pipes; for every method of cleaning toilet-seats with ultra-violet light, there is a device for making ladders safe.

Areas with the greatest number of innovations are medicine and health care, electronics, mechanics and industrial equipment. But equally there are breakthroughs in car safety, gardening, sport and civil engineering.

Integrated inventors

The main reason inventors bring their ideas to Geneva is not to get a slap on the back for being so clever, but to help get an invention to the market as quickly as possible.

"Our experience is that the author of an invention has just one preoccupation: commercialising his invention," Vincent says.

"The time when researchers invented 20 years ahead of their time seems to be over. Today the inventor is better integrated into his era," he adds.

Many of the most commercially successful inventions will never appear at a show like Geneva, because they are developed in the research laboratories of big private companies that keep them secret until they are ready for the market.

But that does not mean that the inventions at the Geneva fair are not of commercial interest.

Of the more than 80,000 visitors expected during the six-day show, more than half will be industrialists and distributors looking to snap up products that no one will be able to do without in two years' time.

Homework

Indeed, around 45 per cent of the inventions showcased in Geneva are the subject of licensing contracts. Familiar products like Velcro, inflatable neck-rests for air passengers and the device for engraving codes on car windows to prevent theft were all initially shown in Geneva.

In line with the more professional spirit of the fair, it is not enough for inventors to come up with a groundbreaking idea. They must also have a good idea of how it will be developed.

"My advice to inventors is: do your homework. Don't show your product at the inventions fair until you are ready to answer questions regarding the way it is marketed, licensed and produced. Otherwise it will be a flop," says Vladimir Yossifov, head of innovation promotion at the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO), the Geneva-based UN agency that deals with copyright issues.

"If they come only for the glory, the money they spend will be wasted," he told swissinfo.

by Roy Probert


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