Every year, on April 26, intellectual property organizations around the world observe “World IP Day” – an event established by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) to raise awareness of patents, copyrights, designs, and trademarks, and to celebrate the creativity and contributions of inventors, authors, artists and entrepreneurs. The theme for 2023 is “Women and IP.” It is intended to highlight the accomplishments of many amazing women while also recognizing, and attempting to rectify, the low participation of women in IP Systems. Is there value in accelerating inclusivity of our IP systems? If so, you may ask yourself, “What can I do?”
An Example: Women Inventors and Patents
The low participation of women in patent systems is well-documented. As noted in my prior blogs here and here, as of 2019, only 13% of inventors listed on US patents are women – and that is up from a mere 8% in 1995. Statistics are similarly low in most other countries. This low percentage is not explained by gender-based discrepancies in training or experience in STEM fields, which are the traditional domain of patents. So why are women not named as inventors on patents?
In recent years, many companies have identified cultural and institutional norms that may preclude identification of women as inventors on patents. The Intellectual Property Owners Association (IPO.org) has developed a Gender Diversity in Innovation Toolkit that can help companies take the actions necessary to change such norms.
As also noted in my prior blogs, recent studies by the USPTO have established the inventors named on patents are disproportionately from upper-class, educated, urban backgrounds. The USPTO’s recent programs for inclusive innovation are designed to increase awareness of patenting and patents, particularly amongst those who might not otherwise be exposed to them, and to encourage the filing of patents by inventors from all walks of life. For example, the USPTO recently announced a pilot program to expedite examination of applications by “First-Time Filers.”
Pro bono programs for IP attorneys can also help broaden access to IP systems, as explained in my prior article. The Squire Patton Boggs Patent Pro Bono program demonstrates that such efforts often benefit women.
Should Things be Different?
In a recorded video-statement, WIPO Director General Daren Tang “issue[d] a call for further action so that more women and girls, from all parts of the world, [can] use IP to bring their ideas alive.” The vision presented is “a more inclusive global IP ecosystem – one with women, youth and small and medium enterprises at its heart.” The rationale is that, “in a world that faces a range of urgent challenges – over health, the economy, the environment and more – it is critical that we support everyone in society to realize their innovative and creative potential.”
In a colorful, short video, WIPO confirms data showing that “the number of women using and benefitting from intellectual property (IP) is still very low” and it asks, “Why does this matter?” In response, it notes that “by using the IP system women can thrive – generating income from the technology, brands, creative works and businesses they develop.” And we all benefit because there is “more innovation, more creativity and more business.”
The World IP Day theme webpage echoes these points, asserting that “everyone, everywhere, can use IP rights to protect their technology, brands and creativity.” In the words of Lisa Jorgenson, WIPO’s IP and Gender Champion, “We believe in a world where innovation and creativity by women anywhere is supported by IP for the good of everyone.”
What Can You Do? What Can We Do?
There are numerous events around the world in honor of World IP Day, many of which provide more information about “Women and IP.” See, for example, the WIPO calendar.
In addition, both WIPO and the USPTO offer a variety of programs and resources to help innovators, creators and entrepreneurs learn about IP – including what it is and how it can be obtained. See here and here.
We also need to consider our collective next steps: We know that women innovate and create. We are working to have more such women obtain copyrights, trademarks, designs and patents – securing the legal rights to their creations and innovations.
Beyond this, we need to enable women to effectively utilize their IP rights in business, whether that be as signs of their proprietorship, tools for negotiation, mechanisms for monetization, or the means for competitive enforcement. Such endeavors may require yet further understanding of IP. They may also – as in the case of patent enforcement – be prohibitively expensive for women, whose businesses are generally small.
As we celebrate the contributions of women on this World IP Day, and work to empower women and a fuller diversity of innovators and creators to obtain IP rights, let us also consider how we enable their use of that IP and more fully realize the potential of our IP systems.