Scientist Wins £2m Compensation 37 Years After World-Changing Invention

By Gary Cutlack on at

The relentless daily drudgery of dealing with Type 1 diabetes was significantly more of a grind before professor Ian Shanks came along and revolutionised glucose testing in 1982, with versions of the innovative blood testing system he pioneered still being used today.

Shanks was working for Unilever at the time, which pocketed the credit and sizeable global patent returns for his invention of the electrochemical capillary fill device – a simple method of measuring live glucose concentration levels in the blood. This is very important for people with diabetes, as low blood glucose can lead to blackouts and high blood glucose levels damage cells and cause long-term health problems.

Hence pretty much every blood glucose monitor made since the invention was proven and patented has paid to use this system, benefiting Unilever's financial bottom line by around £24 million over the years; but not benefiting professor Shanks in any way other than generating a non-bankable warm glow that comes from knowing he's helped millions of people better manage their condition.

However, the Supreme court -- yes it went that far -- has ruled that professor Shanks deserves financial credit and a share of this substantial benefit, though, with a £2m reward now set to come his way. Unilever says the professor received "salary, bonuses and benefits" and his whole job was to work on product innovation, so feels hard done by as a result of the decision. Shanks says he's happy that similar payrolled "employee inventors" of the future may now see greater reward for their contributions to their employers' vastly profitable technology patent lists. [BBC]