“Women and IP: Accelerating innovation and creativity” is the theme of this year’s World Intellectual Property Day, which is being held on April 26. It is a timely reminder of the importance of promoting diversity in IP and among entrepreneurs and business leaders. As the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) states, women everywhere are driving scientific breakthroughs, setting new creative trends and building businesses, but: “Too few women are participating in the intellectual property system. That means too few women are benefitting from IP.”
In fact, according to a March 2021 report by WIPO, only 16.5% of inventors named in international patent applications in 2020 were women. While the proportion has steadily increased compared to previous years, progress is slow: at current rates, gender parity will not be achieved until 2058.
The WIPO data also found that the private sector lagged behind academia, with 15.7% of women inventors in the former compared to 23.2% in the latter. Women inventors were particularly scarce in fields such as transport; engines, pumps and turbines; and mechanical elements.
The picture seems to be very similar around the world. A 2019 report by the US Patent and Trademark Office found that women made up just 13% of all inventor-patentees in the United States, while a study published by the European Patent Office based on data from 1978 to 2019 found that 13.2% of inventors in Europe are women.
The underrepresentation of women as patent inventors reflects gender disparity in intellectual property more generally. Many roles in IP require education in science, technical or engineering subjects or professional qualifications in areas where women remain outnumbered by men.
Innovative women in India
While we have not seen figures for women inventors in India, the picture is likely to be much the same as in other countries. However, there is a strong tradition of innovative and creative women in India and south Asia to build on. The achievements of such women will hopefully stimulate new generations of female inventors, entrepreneurs, designers and creatives.
Notable women scientists in India have included Dr Kamal Ranadive, the first researcher to identify the links between cancer susceptibility and viruses; Asima Chatterjee, known throughout the world for her research on vinca alkaloids; and Tessy Thomas, the “missile woman of India”, Director General of Aeronautical Systems in the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO). These were just some of the women recently profiled by CNBC TV18 for International Day of Women and Girls in Science.
India’s creative sector today also features many prominent women, including film directors such as Gauri Shinde and Mira Nair, writers such as Geetanjali Shree (winner of the International Booker Prize in 2022 for Tomb of Sand), designers such as Sujata Keshavan of Varana and entrepreneurs such as Falguni Nyaar of Nykaa and Anita Lal of Good Earth.
Women have played a prominent role in leadership in India and south Asia, for example, Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit, the first woman to be elected president of the UN General Assembly, and Justice Anna Chandy, founder of the journal Shrimati, who was only the second woman in the world to hold the title of high court judge.
Diversity and IP
Promoting diversity in IP is not just important to ensure that all individuals can reach their potential in their chosen field by providing equal opportunities. It is also key to bringing new perspectives to innovation and creativity – helping to solve different problems and generate fresh ideas.
As the writer Caroline Criado Perez showed in her book on gender data bias, Invisible Women, ignoring women’s input has a negative impact on everything from street lighting and crash test dummies to drug development and digital health monitoring.
We all need role models: by celebrating and sharing women’s achievements and innovation and creativity, hopefully we can inspire future generations of women and girls to fulfil their potential. So the World IP Day initiative this year is very welcome and we look forward to supporting it on 26 April and beyond.