Inventors look for big break in Geneva

A Star Wars extra? No, the latest in collapsible cycling helmets Keystone

The world’s inventors have convened once again in Geneva to show off their creations – be they wacky, strange, or just plain useful.

This content was published on April 11, 2005 - 08:08

Over 1,000 inventions are on display at the city’s annual inventors fair, their creators hoping to attract the investor who will help them find fame and fortune.

Inventors are considered by many to be slightly eccentric, or at least original thinkers. The 33rd International Exhibition of Inventions does little to dispel this belief.

Folding fins that allow divers to walk without falling over, or a cycling crash helmet that unfolds from a backpack in the event of a fall are just some of the stranger creations on show this year.

One Swiss invention that may seem a little out of this world is the freebouncing board, a mix of skateboarding and kitesurfing, according to one of its creators, Patrik Faerber.

The idea is simple: strap a skateboard to your feet and jump up and down hanging from a specially-adapted bungee rope slung from a bridge or some other structure. Its inventors say leaps of up to four metres are possible.

"Skateboarders have tested our product and loved it," Faerber told the 20 Minuten newspaper.

Promotion

But other creations are more down-to-earth. Bruno Luciani from western Switzerland is showing off a new device for collecting rainwater that can then be used to water a garden or flush toilets. Luciani is now hoping that an investor will latch on to his idea.

"I’m looking for someone to purchase my patent," he added. "The exhibition is the right place to promote my invention."

Another device that may attract investors is a tiny GPS chip to help owners find lost pets. Fitted on a dog’s collar, it gives Fido’s location within a ten-metre radius.

Its inventor, Pascal Bourcard, said the idea came to him at the fair three years ago. "A lady explained to me that the identification chip I had developed for dog collars wouldn’t help find her pet quickly," he told Swiss public radio.

Bourcard adds that now the product is technically ready, he still has to find a market, customers and the means to produce on a large scale.

"I hope to use all the feedback from the fair to help me make the right business decisions," he said.

National interests

Swiss inventors are by no means the biggest delegation in Geneva, and only represent 14 per cent of exhibitors. The fair has become very popular with some nations, in particular Malaysia, Russia, France and Iran.

The Malaysians are occupying around a quarter of the fair’s floor space, while 53 Iranian exhibitors have turned up.

Iran’s government decided to lend financial support to its delegation after a local inventor returned with an award from the exhibition last year.

More and more countries are backing homegrown talent. Inventors with no official support are becoming the exception, according to Etienne Nusslé, the fair’s spokesman for 25 years.

Around two-thirds of the exhibitors are companies or institutes, with the remaining third made up of individual inventors.

One Malaysian invention that has attracted attention is a coconut-husking machine.

The leftovers can be used for a variety of purposes, such as making crash helmets. Inventor Dan Pilal says the helmets are up to government safety standards.

Sales

Another company well on the way to success with the help of investors is Austria’s Kabel-X, which has come up with a way of replacing copper telephone wires with fibre optics without having to dig up lines.

"Telephone companies are interested in our technique," Alois Pilcher told Swiss television. "We have to show them we can handle any projects they give us."

The fair is mainly a place for investors and inventors to meet. Actual sales of products are restricted to a small area where 40 exhibitors are showing off their wares.

"These are usually products that have been presented at an earlier edition of the exhibition," said the fair’s president, Jean-Luc Vincent.

The guests of honour in the commercial section are the designers of a futuristic modular house that makes efficient use of solar energy. Two models have been set up at the entrance of the exhibition.

swissinfo with agencies

Key facts

The 33rd Geneva inventions fair at Palexpo is playing host to 735 exhibitors from 42 countries, the largest number ever.
Around 60,000 visitors are expected to visit the exhibition by the time it closes on Sunday.
More than half the visitors are businessmen and investors.
86% of the exhibitors are foreign.
They are competing for 39 awards.
Sales and business deals concluded at or just after last year’s fair were worth $30 million (SFr36 million).

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