Through

AFP

on 10/28/2021 at 5:06 p.m.

4 min read

Doormat for wheelchair, flying car or ballpoint pen? Since 1901, the Lépine competition prize, awarded Sunday in Paris, has become a breeding ground for inventors of everyday objects that are often useful, sometimes wacky.

For the 120 years of the competition, 300 inventions are in competition, from the smart ring to the solar cover via an ingenious device allowing to attach any wheelchair to an electric scooter.

Those judged the most innovative by a jury of 53 people, professionals and volunteers, are rewarded with a series of purely honorary prizes. The most prestigious, the President of the Republic’s Prize, receives a vase from Sèvres, a famous French porcelain factory.

Visionary engineers or genius tinkerers, the candidates and a few rarer candidates have the particularity of being fiercely “independent”, underlines the organization of the competition. But the cliché of the isolated scientist making a fortune by creating a revolutionary apparatus is today more a “myth” than reality.

If no Geo Trouvetout du Lépine has known the posterity of the inventors of Hewlett Packard in the United States, in their garage in Palo Alto which has become the emblem of digital creativity, Some have become industrialists.

The most famous of them is undoubtedly Jean Mantelet, awarded in 1931 for his potato masher, who then created the Moulinex brand (SEB group), synonymous with French household appliances.

Laureate in 1956 for his “game of 1000 Bornes”, a board game where players have to face the vagaries of driving, Edmond Dujardin, continued his career by creating the game publishing house of the same name. And his “1000 Bornes” have traveled much more around the world via multiple foreign versions.

“From 1901 to 1960, the competition was really in the independent invention on mass objects to be industrialized: the ballpoint pen, ancestor of Bic in 1919, or the steam iron of Constantin Caroni in 1921”, declares Barbara Dorey, member of the organization.

Since the 1960s, the competition “devotes more to the response to a particular need” than to mass production, she admits.

Nevertheless, long before the fashion for “made in France”, the competition celebrated French creativity. The first edition in 1901 had been created by the police prefect Lépine who wanted to respond to an economic slump and encourage tricolor production.

In 2021, the pandemic and its attendant constraints have stimulated the imagination of candidates with a mask that removes the fog on the glasses, or a doorknob to be opened with the elbow.

Global warming and ecological transition too: a solar cover for recharging a car parked outside is presented, as well as water consumption control units.

Household gadgets are faithful to the rendezvous: folding shower cabin, vertical barbecue or mop that promises to collect dust while washing the floor in a single gesture. Many have ended up in oblivion like the butter spreader or the automatic macaroni eater.

More recently, in the medical field, André Emerit, awarded in 1983 for his viper venom suction syringe, created the company Aspi-Venin.

More current entrepreneurial path, that of the founder of the small company of expertise in marking of Mobilead products, Laurent Tonnelier. He won the President’s Prize in 2019 for his app for detecting allergens in food, in the “connected universe” category.

Formerly in Silicon Valley, he has not chosen to industrialize his discovery, but offers his licenses for sale “at a reasonable price,” he told AFP, “so as not to run out, and to disseminate as much as possible “. This gives him time to focus on other innovations.

If the INPI says “difficult to quantify the number of patents” resulting from the event, the organization awards prizes each year.

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