Bereich DPMA

Inventor and innovation awards

Innovations are the solution to challenges in many areas. This is particularly evident in the coronavirus pandemic. Innovation awards recognise the achievements of the people behind them. The DPMA actively supports some prestigious awards.

Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier and the 2021 award winners Deutscher Zukunftspreis, Foto: Deutscher Zukunftspreis
From left to right: Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier and the 2021 award winners Prof Uğur Şahin, Dr Özlem Türeci, Prof Katalin Karikó and Prof Christoph Huber

Inventor or innovation awards primarily give recognition to people who create future-oriented solutions in the technical field. At the same time, these awards encourage inventiveness, innovative spirit and progress.

The prizes awarded to individuals or teams also impressively demonstrate how important it is to protect these innovations, for example in order to support further research or create new jobs.

DPMA President Cornelia Rudloff-Schäffer and other senior executives of the DPMA are members of the juries or boards of trustees of some of these awards. In addition, our patent examiners regularly propose outstanding innovations for nomination.

In 2021, the DPMA was involved in the following inventor and innovation awards:

The Deutscher Zukunftspreis award now looks back at a history of 25 years. It was established by Roman Herzog in 1997 and has also been awarded by all subsequent Federal Presidents. Since then, 224 creative and courageous people have been nominated, whose innovations have advanced society and industry in Germany. The prize was awarded to 54 male and (so far only) seven female winners out of 87 nominated teams. The nominated innovations initially came from the fields of mechanical engineering and the automotive sector, later chemistry and medicine came to the fore. Now, the focus is on artificial intelligence, the environment, software and robotics. Thus, the Deutscher Zukunftspreis award reflects the scientific and economic change in our society. The Deutscher Zukunftspreis award still is the badge for excellent inventions from Germany and comes with prize money of 250,000 euros. DPMA President Cornelia Rudloff-Schäffer has been a member of the board of trustees for many years, which determines the direction of selection decisions.

The 25th Deutscher Zukunftspreis award was presented by Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier on 17 November 2021 at an evening event, which was broadcast via live stream and subsequently shown on the German TV channel ZDF. DPMA President Rudloff-Schäffer also paid tribute to the scientists: “The nominated teams are tackling pressing problems which are facing humankind, and are offering impressive solutions in their fields. With a visionary eye, all three of them have been pushing their developments forward for a long time. Their success is the result of hard and persistent research work.”

The 2021 prize winners are Prof Ugur Sahin, Dr Özlem Türeci, Prof Christoph Huber and Prof Katalin Kariko of BioNTech SE in Mainz. They have developed a vaccine against COVID-19, an infectious disease, at unprecedented speed, thus providing billions of people all over the world with protection against infection. The main innovation is to use mRNA technology to vaccinate people. Used as a “blueprint” for specific virus proteins, mRNA is delivered into human cells. When the body comes into contact with the virus, the antibodies produced against the virus proteins allow the immune system to fight the virus efficiently.

“The novel mRNA vaccine developed by the prize winners is key to mitigating one of humanity’s problems of our time. Additionally, the founders demonstrated remarkable courage to act as entrepreneurs and build an economically highly successful company in cooperation with investors,” the DPMA President praised this outstanding achievement.

The following teams were also nominated for the Deutscher Zukunftspreis award:
Dr Carla Recker of Continental AG in Hannover, Dr Christian Schulze Gronover of the Fraunhofer Institute for Molecular Biology and Applied Ecology IME in Münster and Prof Dirk Prüfer of the University of Münster have developed an eco-friendly material from Russian dandelion that replaces natural rubber from the rubber tree in car and bicycle tyres. As the share of natural rubber in tyres is up to 40%, there is a great potential for environment and climate protection.

Prof Thomas Flohr, Dr Björn Kreisler and Dr Stefan Ulzheimer of Siemens Healthineers AG in Forchheim have enhanced medical imaging with the photon-counting computed tomography. Compared to the currently available apparatuses, the new photon-counting detectors allow images of the body interior — e.g. tissue and bones — to be produced with a significantly higher resolution.

The DPMA is entitled to nominate projects for the Deutscher Zukunftspreis award to the jury:
Please draw our attention to your projects! Proposals for nominations for the 2023 Deutscher Zukunftspreis award can be submitted at any time until the beginning of November 2022. For more information, visit our website.

On 17 June 2021, the European Patent Office (EPO) presented the European Inventor Award as usually in the five categories “Industry”, “Research”, “Non-EPO countries”, “Small and medium-sized enterprises” and “Lifetime achievement” and also bestowed a popular prize. Due to the pandemic, the award ceremony took place as a digital ceremony.

“The European Inventor Award recognises the ultimate top class of international innovators,” said DPMA President Rudloff-Schäffer on the occasion of the award ceremony, where, fortunately, a German scientist was also among the prize winners.”

The physicist Professor Karl Leo, who does research at the Technische Universität Dresden (TU Dresden) and is active as an entrepreneur, was honoured in the category “Lifetime achievement” for his inventions for the development of organic semiconductors. These semiconductors enable applications in the fields of lighting and photovoltaics. Karl Leo’s method combines organic semiconductors with substances that generate freely moving electrons to make the semiconductors more conductive. OLED technology makes electronic displays brighter and enables higher colour resolution. It is also more energy-efficient than other technologies and has helped millions of people to get improved products. “Karl Leo is a brilliant technology pioneer,” said the DPMA President. “His OLEDs helped to make a previously underestimated technology utilisable for industrial application and thus contributed to the development of high-tech products such as smartphones and flat screens in their current forms. Inventive scientists like Karl Leo are of outstanding importance for the success of our country as a location for innovation”.

Prof Karl Leo, Foto: Europäisches Patentamt
Prof Karl Leo, winner of the European Inventor Award 2021 in the category "Lifetime achievement"

Another German scientist and a German research team had also been nominated for one of the prizes. Dr Metin Colpan, co-founder of the biotech company QIAGEN was nominated — like Prof Leo in the category “Lifetime achievement” — for his inventions on the separation and purification of nucleic acids. The process enables the cost-effective extraction of ultra-pure DNA or RNA without toxic chemicals and marked a milestone in biotechnology. Today, the developed materials are also used in COVID-19 tests.

Dr Christoph Gürtler (Covestro Deutschland AG, Leverkusen) and Prof Walter Leitner (Max Planck Institute for Chemical Energy Conversion, Mülheim an der Ruhr) were proposed by the DPMA for the shortlist in the category “Industry”. They have developed a technology that utilises carbon dioxide as a component for producing high-quality plastics. As a result, oil can be partially replaced in the production of plastics — for example for manufacturing mattresses, sports flooring, textile fibres or insulating materials. “To use a climate-wrecking gas as a valuable raw material for a high-quality product sounds like spinning straw into gold.” DPMA President Cornelia Rudloff-Schäffer paid tribute on the occasion of the virtual award ceremony: “The developments of the two scientists are an impressive example of how a highly innovative technology can contribute to preserving resources and protecting the environment.”

The Innovation Award of Bavaria is jointly awarded every two years by the Bavarian Ministry of Economic Affairs, the Federation of Bavarian Chambers of Industry and Commerce (Bayerischer Industrie- und Handelskammertag) and the Federation of Bavarian Chambers of Crafts (Arbeitsgemeinschaft der bayerischen Handwerkskammern). The next awarding of the prize for outstanding innovative achievements is scheduled for autumn 2022.

On 24 November 2021, the four categories of the “XXIV Thuringia Innovation Award 2021” and three special awards were jointly presented by the Thuringian Minister of Economic Affairs, Science and the Digital Society, Wolfgang Tiefensee, the Foundation for Technology, Innovation and Research of Thuringia (STIFT), TÜV Thüringen and the Ernst Abbe Foundation. The prize money amounted to 100,000 euros in total. Due to the pandemic, the event took place before a small circle of guests at Weimarhalle in Weimar. However, viewers were also able to watch the award ceremony live on the Internet.

Markus Ortlieb, head of the Jena sub-office, once again represented the DPMA in the 19-member jury, particularly clarifying questions relating to the state of the art and IP rights regarding the 81 submitted nominations/inventions across all categories.

The criteria for granting the award, decided on by the jury, include the degree of innovation, entrepreneurial achievement, functionality, practical value and economic success. Furthermore, the competition entries must already have been launched on the market or be about to be launched. Another requirement is that the development and production of the submitted innovation has predominantly taken place in Thuringia.

The innovations were honoured with the 2021 Thuringia Innovation Award you will find on the website.

The award winners of the XXIV Thuringia Innovation Award 2021, Foto: Sascha Fromm, Thüringer Allgemeine
The award winners of the XXIV Thuringia Innovation Award 2021

For the 17th time, the Saxon Minister of State for Economic Affairs, Labour and Transport, Martin Dulig, presented the Saxon State Award for Design at Pillnitz Palace in Dresden. The award went to the best design achievements in the categories “Product design”, “Communication design” and “Design in crafts and trades” as well as “Innovative design by young talent”. For the first time, there was also the special prize in the category “Design makes occupational safety attractive” as well as a public’s choice award.

The competition is intended to firmly establish design as an economic factor in Saxon companies, make the performance of Saxon design visible and promote the Saxon design industry and young design talent.

Barbara Preißner, Head of the Directorate General Trade Marks and Designs at the DPMA, is a member of the jury that selects the award winners from the five categories. The distribution of the prize money, which amounts to 50,000 euros in total, is at the discretion of the jury.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the award ceremony for the 2020 Saxon State Award for Design was held on 5 July 2021.
These were the prize winners:

Awards ceremony for the Saxon State Award for Design 2020, Bildnachweis: SMWA, Julian Hoffmann
Awards ceremony for the Saxon State Award for Design 2020
Pokale Sächsischer Staatspreis für Design 2020, Bildnachweis: SMWA, Julian Hoffmann

There is still a great need for top scientists in Germany.
The “Jugend forscht” youth science contest makes an important contribution to finding and promoting young talent. Through creative and research-oriented learning within the scope of a project, young people can acquire technical and methodological skills at an early stage, which are important, for example, for a later career in research. Hence, it is a great success that a total of 4,339 researchers with 2,558 projects took part in this year’s contest — despite the restrictions due to the pandemic.

In the field of biology, Marik Müller convinced the federal jury with his research on the inactivation of the antibiotic florfenicol. This antibiotic is widely used in aquaculture and veterinary medicine, with residues ending up in soil and water, stimulating the development of antibiotic-resistant germs. The young researcher succeeded in cleaving the antibiotic and thus making it harmless. Later, his project also won him one of the four first prizes at the “European Union Contest for Young Scientists” (EUCYS) 2021 and thus the title of European Champion.

The winners of the individual categories are mentioned on the website of the “Jugend forscht” contest.

Since 2017, women&work, Europe’s leading career fair for women, has been honouring female inventors. The prize was not awarded in 2021.