We have some good news! One of our clients has been nominated for the prestigious European Inventor Award! Every year the European Patent Office presents this award to an innovator whose interesting inventions have particularly stood out.
And the nominees are…
This year Gert-Jan Gruter of Dutch company Avantium has been nominated for his inventions in the field of plant-based bio-plastics. This type of plastic can be used in packaging materials, for instance, such as soft drink bottles.
How did Avantium get to where it is today?
Avantium started as a Shell spin-off in 2000. At that time its core activity consisted of conducting research for chemical and pharmaceutical companies. Avantium developed a smart platform to enhance the efficiency of such research, for example into catalytic converters.
I got to know Gert-Jan when I started working for Avantium shortly after taking up employment with EP&C in 2001. At that time Avantium had a number of investors who felt it was important for dozens of new patent applications to be filed each year. Avantium's competitors were also actively protecting their ideas. A lot was going on back then.
Simply really smart
The inventions of Gert-Jan and his team were full of smart ideas. However, they were not always easy to protect. Because Avantium's research platform works on a very small scale and has lots of reactors in operation at the same time, there is no room for bells and whistles. Using the most basic resources possible, test installations had to be set up that would function at the highest level. It was challenging at times to convince the examiners of the various patent granting bodies in the different countries that something which looks really simple at first glance is, in fact, incredibly smart.
Fortunately Avantium nearly always managed to do so. In my opinion, the close cooperation between Avantium and EP&C definitely contributed to this. You start to understand each other’s problems - I started to understand why certain technical issues are so tricky or important and Gert-Jan soon figured out how the patent system works. During some of our IP meetings I even had the feeling that I was talking to a fellow-patent attorney.
Avantium changed its strategy after a number of years. In addition to conducting research for others, it also started to do its own. The most important outcome of this is the plastic which has now resulted in Gert-Jan being nominated for this important award for inventors.
Recipe for success
People occasionally ask me what it is that makes an invention or innovative company successful. I think it is a combination of a number of factors.
First of all there has to be a solid technical basis - you really have to have invented something. However entrepreneurship is just as important. By that I don't just mean you have to have a sense of what the market wants, but also the guts to take major, drastic decisions. On top of that you have to be able to figure out how to deal with obstacles. Do you carry on regardless in an effort to overcome them, or recognise the fact that it is time for a different approach?
Income from Intellectual Property (IP)
Needless to say it is important to protect your inventions properly. We initially used to grumble from time to time about those investors who only looked at the number of patent applications filed. However, they were the ones who ultimately contributed to Avantium attaining a solid position in the market and staying ahead of the competition. Nowadays direct income is being generated with the IP rights on the results of the company's own research.
With his combination of great technical knowledge, creativity and entrepreneurship, Gert-Jan is a perfect example of a 'true inventor'. I wish him every success, and certainly plenty of fun, at the European Inventor Awards ceremony in Venice on 15 June. As far as I am concerned he has earned it!