Interview: Sumita Mitra, European Inventor Award 2021 finalist

Enterprise IT Review Bureau

Indian-American chemist Sumita Mitra has been nominated as a finalist in the European Inventor Award 2021. Mitra was the first to apply nanotechnology to the production of dental materials, leading to the creation of a new composite to repair teeth which has many advantages over conventional materials. The European Inventor Award is one of Europe's most prestigious innovation prizes. Launched by the European Patent Office in 2006, it honours individual inventors and teams of inventors whose pioneering inventions provide answers to some of the biggest challenges of our times.

Mitra has been nominated as a finalist in the “Non-EPO countries” category. 

Sumita Mitra’s material overcomes many of the limitations of previous dental composites, which were either too weak to be used on biting surfaces, or quickly lost their polish and became physically unattractive. In addition, her invention is more versatile than other composites, meaning it can be used in any area of the mouth, and simplifies the filling procedure for dentists. Commercialised as Filtek™ Supreme Universal Restorative since 2002 by 3M, the US multinational for whom Mitra worked for more than 30 years, the technology and the products developed from it are today used by dentists around the globe.

Sumita Mitra is named on 58 European patents, four of which are related to her nomination for the European Inventor Award 2021: EP1225867EP1227782EP1229886 EP1771143

Sumita Mitra
Sumita Mitra

Speaking about promoting innovation through patents, Sumita Mitra says 'A strong patent system has proven to be essential for technological innovations. The protection of intellectual property offered by a good patent system guarantees that inventors’ rights are protected so that the inventions can be commercially successful. Patents also promote the dissemination of information which is crucial to technological advancement and maximization of returns.' 

When asked about how patents can protect innovation, she highlights, 'Many studies have shown that patents stimulate innovation, but in order to do so the patenting countries must have good intellectual property laws and assure proper enforcement of these laws.

Mitra’s invention has contributed to the company being named as one of the top three manufacturers for the global composite filing in the dental restoration market in 2019. The material’s strength is its versatility according to her: “You have all the desired properties of a tooth filling in one material. That is why this technology has been used to make so many different types of tooth restorations around the world.”

Although Mitra retired from 3M in 2010, the enduring success of her invention continues with Filtek products used in one billion tooth restorations worldwide by dentists to date. Today she continues to contribute to research and development through her own consulting company. She also volunteers in her community and hopes to inspire young people to develop an interest in science.

The winners of the 2021 edition of the EPO's annual innovation prize will be announced at a ceremony starting at 19:00 CEST on 17 June which has this year been reimagined as a digital event for a global audience.

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