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The three grand winners of this year's European Commission sponsored IST (Information Society Technologies) prize received their awards in Brussels yesterday. Two French firms, Let It Wave (for its image compression technology) and Praxim Mediavision (computer assisted surgical systems), along with Swedish firm Cypak (pin-on-card technology) emerged victorious and a handy €200,000 richer. British entries, as with recent Eurovision song contests, missed out on main prize. But unlike Jordan Babboo.com, FilmLight and Skinkers got a prize for making it into the last 20.

The European IST Prize, now in its 11th year, recognises the best of European innovation in information and communication technologies. The Grand Prize Winners were selected from a total of 430 entries, largely submitted by start-ups, from a total of 29 European countries. The Prize is organised by Euro-CASE with the sponsorship and support of the Information Society Programme of the European Commission.

Cypak1, which was founded in 1999 and employs 14 people, won recognition for its contactless smartcard with integrated PIN pad for secure verification over the internet. Let It Wave got the gong for CodecID, compression software that enables the storage of high-quality identity photos with as few as 500 bytes. The technology has applications in area such as ID cards, visas, access badges.

Lastly, French firm Praxim Mediavision wowed the judges with its Surgetics Kneelogics Application. This is described as a "computer-assisted surgical system dedicated to the precise positioning of implants and grafts in knee surgery". Praxim Mediavision has grown to employ 55 people in its 10 years of operation. No overall winner was named so each of the three firms honoured gets to share the spotlight.

"The three Grand Prize Winners are outstanding examples of European innovation," said Information Society and Media Commissioner Viviane Reding, who awarded the prizes Tuesday evening in a ceremony at the Belgian Palace of the Academies. "Projects like these show that Europe has a strong growth potential and can substantially enhance its competitiveness by investing in information and communication technologies".

If all this has sparked your enthusiasm, the deadline for entries to the 2005/6 IST competition is 12 May. As in 2004/5, the entries next year will be evaluated by independent experts from 18 countries nominated by Euro-CASE and agreed by the European Commission. More details, and full information on the winners and other nominees, can be found at www.ist-prize.org. ®

1 Using RFID chips, sensors and advanced printing technology to print a circuit on cardboard, Cypak has also developed disposable pharmaceutical packaging. This has initially been put to use in medical trial as a way to accurately record (and if necessary remind) subjects when to take medicine. Cypak wants to extend this idea to developing simple, disposable computers made of cardboard. This may or may not come off but makes this Swedish company well worth keeping an eye on.

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