Geneva has been playing host to its annual celebration of ingenuity - the international exhibition of inventions.This content was published on April 7, 2001 - 14:31
Hundreds of exhibitors from more than 40 countries have displayed their products or ideas at Palexpo.
Among this year's entries are a machine for humanely killing lobsters, devices to screen radio frequency waves from portable phones or reduce the wear of the tyres of aircraft on landing, and an umbrella holder which serves to hold your umbrella when your hands are busy.
There are also skis with brakes, a hikers back pack incorporating a light-weight two-man tent in the design, and disposable pants for dogs.
Andrew French, hailed as one of Australia's most prolific, award-winning inventors, has exhibited a new type of gearing and drive system which runs on magnetic repulsion.
"I believe it's the most efficient machine the world has ever seen," French told swissinfo. We are running four machines with one motor so we've saved a lot of capital costs and a lot of fuel costs.
"If this machine was to be put into a developing country, it would be a heart beat for that village. Basically they could pump water, refrigerate food, use hydraulics for crushing rock and building roads and it also produces electricity."
French has a list of successful inventions to his name, many of which he has exhibited at previous fairs in Geneva, where he found the commercial backing to turn them into viable products.
In 1994 he displayed a device which can make snow at any temperature. He returned to the exhibition in 1995 with two agricultural inventions and in 2000, displayed an escalator handrail with advertising inside it.
"The snow device is used all round the world," said French. "The handrail is coming into fruition at the moment and the acquaculture system is used extensively throughout Asia.
"It consists of a floating tent on a pontoon made out of four pipes. In the middle of it, we have rotten meat with small holes in the flyscreen.
"Flies go in there and blow maggots in the meat which drip into the water to be eaten by the fish. Maggots are 99 per cent protein.
"It sounds really rank but in a lot of countries around the equator, where you have a lot of heat and dead animals, you can put them inside this floating tent on an acquaculture pond and turn decaying matter into fish food, and then into human food."
French has been an inventor practically all his life.
At the age of 18, he designed a device which stopped dogs kicking over garbage cans. He was then pointed in the direction of the patent office and has never looked back.
"Inventions are never just a solution," he said. "What you do is stumble upon a problem and think about ways of doing something better or looking at it differently.
"Normally there's another solution that's been overlooked. That's the seed which gets planted in your head and you walk around digesting it and you normally think of a few other things which could be installed on it or go with it.
"But you need a problem to have an invention."
Andrew French says his four successful inventions have made up for his six unsuccessful ones. The name of the game is to recuperate your money and keep going.
"Businesses tend to feel nervous when a new person on the block comes up with a dynamic idea in their industry and you do find a lot of stand-offish, hold-you-out scenarios.
"I've had a few companies pretend they're going to do business with me right up to the day of my patent renewals and then they pull the plug and leave me with a $20-30,000 bill which I've got to find in a couple of hours because they've told me they're going to pay it.
"They hoped that they could crush me and the idea would be free to market but with my good inventions, I've always found the money."
Not everyone is as successful an inventor as Andrew French. However, the organisers of the Geneva exhibition say that licenses were negotiated for the sale, manufacture, distribution or marketing of more than 45 per cent of last year's inventions and that the business value of these contracts exceeded $30 million.
by Vincent Landon
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