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Geneva fair showcases all the inventions you need, and more

GENEVA--His eyes hidden by sunglasses, the soft-spoken African gestured at the model camel on his table, its hump hidden by a mysterious contraption topped with a windmill.

“I'm the only Chadian with five patented inventions to his name,” Oumar Ayoumbaye said proudly, before pitching his low-tech, camel-borne air conditioning unit which he says could revolutionize desert life.

“It's an extra flat aircon unit that's energy independent. It's destined for nomads or tourists who travel by camel, or even by elephant,” Ayoumbaye told AFP.

“On top of that, it helps go easy on the water, because it keeps the camel's hump cool. And when a camel has a cool hump, it can go for 17 days without a drink.”

Tucked in amongst corporate and university research staff at the International Exhibition of Inventions in Geneva, lone players like Ayoumbaye are what gives the annual show its feel.

“I would say that the best inventions are those created by people who in fact are active in another field. They bring a fresh, new, original approach,” said Jean-Luc Vincent, the fair's founder.

Billed as the biggest showcase of its kind worldwide, the event's 42nd edition kicked off Wednesday and ends Sunday.

It has drawn a record 790 exhibitors from 45 countries.

The inventions, all of which must be patented to go on show, range from the never-knew-you-needed-it to ultra-practical, and span the spectrum from low-tech to super sophisticated.

For those in the innovation business, Geneva is a potential goldmine.

Breakout successes from past editions include above-stage displays to translate operas, mobile scanners for shipping containers and inflatable neck pillows for travelers.

Exhibitors pay an event fee of up to 1,200 Swiss francs (980 euros, US$1,360).

That can be a good investment if the fair helps them make the leap to market by sealing a licensing contract — industrialists and distributors feature heavily among the 60,000 visitors.

Nearly half of inventions on show at previous editions have found a licensee, and the total value of licenses negotiated last year topped 55 million Swiss francs, organizers said.

According to Vincent, the fast pace of innovation now incites companies to buy inventions rather than develop them in-house as they hunt for the next big thing.

And globalization means companies interested in an idea may no longer be on an inventor's doorstop, but in fact on the other side of the planet.

With innovation a weathervane of the shifting center of the global economy, over half of Geneva's exhibitors now hail from Asia and the Middle East.

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