Irish inventor Jane ní Dhulchaointigh and her team have been nominated for a European Patent Office (EPO) prize for creating the world's first mouldable glue.
Mrs ní Dhulchaointigh is the first ever Irish finalist thanks to the putty-like, mouldable glue she pioneered and brought to market as Sugru. She and her team have been named as finalists in the ‘Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises’ category at the awards and EPO president Benoît Battistelli said of Mrs ní Dhulchaointigh’s nomination as a finalist: “Jane ní Dhulchaointigh's invention invites us to rethink our behaviour when it comes to discarding damaged or broken items in favour of a more considerate treatment of our environment. Her invention is proof that innovative European SMEs can benefit from patents to effectively establish their leadership in the development of sustainable consumer products.”
The nomination comes as it is revealed that Sugru parent company FormFormForm Ltd has been sold to German adhesive specialist Tesa for around £7.6million (8.6million Euros).
Speaking to DIY Week this week, Mrs ní Dhulchaointigh said it had been “challenging few months” and that it had been difficult breaking the news to investors that “the price paid for the company doesn’t give them a return on their investment.” She explained “It’s not what any of us wanted” but said that growth had slowed in 2017 where it had “taken longer to get mainstream awareness” and to achieve the listings in retail outlets they expected.
However, she believes the decision to sell is “for the good of the product” and that the business will be stronger as a result of the deal.
Describing it as a "tough time", Mrs ní Dhulchaointigh said that being named as a finalist for the prestigious European award was a “good reminder that the basics are right”, adding “now we’ve got to do the same with the business side.”
Launched by the EPO in 2006, the European Inventor Award pays tribute to the creativity of inventors the world over, who use their technical, scientific and intellectual skills to make a real contribution to technological progress and economic growth and so improve people's daily lives.
The award ceremony, hosted by the EPO, is held in a different European capital each June. This year, the ceremony will be held in Paris on Thursday, June 7. Inventions up for an award this year cover a wide range of fields, from medical technology, to automotive, toys, clean energy, materials science, lasers and electronics
In 2010, TIME magazine placed Sugru 22nd on its list of the 50 Best Inventions of the Year (the iPad was placed 34th the same year). FormFormForm estimates that Sugru has 2.5 million users worldwide. The community of people that share their experiments and experiences with the product online have worked with the product in 175 countries to mend and customise more than 15 million objects, including a camera sent into space by schoolchildren and a prosthetic foot for a chicken.
"I had a very clear idea for what Sugru could become," explained Mrs ní Dhulchaointigh."It wasn't just an idea for a product that maybe somebody might like. I actually believed that there's the potential to change the world here. It took a lot of hard work and the thing that keeps us going is that it is making a difference to people's lives and we can see that from every email and story from our users thanking us for what it has enabled them to do.”
The EPO added: “Given the uniqueness of Mrs ní Dhulchaointigh's invention the glue does not easily fall into a product category.”
Mrs ní Dhulchaointigh confirmed that this is something FormFormForm struggled with, telling DIY Week: “It is a new category, so it is really about getting everyone to understand it.”
Whilst FormFormForm has seen strong sales online and has had some success with major retail listings – particularly in North America – the roll-out to other retailers has taken longer than hoped. Under Tesa’s ownership, she hopes to be able to expand the business and grow its reach throughout Europe and says she is excited for its future.
"10 years ago much fewer people were talking about fixing and upcycling," she said. "It was the same with the recycling market, which then went mainstream. I believe the same thing will happen with the upcycling market."