By Aikaterini Kanellia and Lisa Jorgenson, Patents and Technology Sector, WIPO
The intellectual property (IP) gender gap is a real problem; only around 16 percent of patent applications filed through WIPO’s Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) are from women, leaving countless brilliant minds and their ideas untapped. WIPO estimates that at current rates, gender parity among PCT-listed inventors will not be achieved before 2064. By taking action now to enable and support women innovators, we can unlock their potential for innovation, strengthen IP and innovation ecosystems and drive economic growth.
Good practices are springing up everywhere
Notwithstanding the enormity of the challenge, there are signs of progress. We see a growing number of exciting developments within the fields of innovation, creativity, and entrepreneurship involving concerted action to engage more women in the business of innovation and creativity. For example, multiple national IP offices around the globe are rolling out initiatives aimed at supporting women in their IP journey. These initiatives share a common goal, namely, to enable women’s participation in the IP system by offering fee reductions and free legal assistance for the preparation and submission of patent applications.
Multiple national IP offices around the globe are rolling out initiatives aimed at supporting women in their IP journey.
Examples include the Juana Patent and Juana Design Protection Incentive Program (JPIP) of the Intellectual Property Office of the Philippines (IPOPHL), which is helping women inventors and designers protect and enforce their IP rights. Similarly, in India, the Office of the Controller General of Patents, Designs, and Trade Marks (CGPDTM) offers an 80 percent fee reduction to start-ups and women entrepreneurs. In the United States, the Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) has reduced its fees for small and micro entities by 60 percent and 80 percent, respectively. Moreover, the USPTO’s Pro Bono Program provides free legal assistance to inventors and small businesses, many of which are women-led, making it easier for them to bring their ideas to the market. And in Mexico, through its Mujeres Innovadoras program, the Mexican Institute of Industrial Property (IMPI) offers women a variety of resources, including skills-building, mentoring and other training opportunities to help them add value to, and commercialize, their innovative technologies.
A world where women everywhere can pursue their passion for science and technology
At WIPO, we are dedicated to providing the support and resources necessary to help women protect and enhance the value of their work through use of the IP system. By doing so, we not only benefit women themselves but also strengthen our collective ability to develop cutting-edge technologies and solutions that can transform our communities. It also creates opportunities for more women-led businesses to thrive, bolstering economic resilience in these testing times. We all gain when every woman has the opportunity to pursue her passion for science, technology, and the arts regardless of family responsibilities or career breaks.
At WIPO, we are dedicated to providing the support and resources necessary to help women protect and enhance the value of their work through use of the IP system.
Recognizing the need to support women’s re-entry to the workforce after absences relating to family responsibilities, the Department of Science and Technology of India has launched the Women Scientists Scheme (WOS). The scheme offers women who have taken a career break research grants and fellowships as an incentive for them to pursue careers in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields. To date, some 800 women have received training through the program. Around 270 of them have become registered patent agents, working with inventors to help them secure legal protection for their patents. These women currently make-up around 10 percent of active patent agents and IP facilitators for start-ups in India. Such schemes help to create a more inclusive IP and innovation landscape where women can exercise their talents and pursue their ambitions for the benefit of everyone.
The data challenge
Collecting data on the representation of women in the fields of innovation and IP is an important focus as it can help identify the scale and origins of the challenge and thereby support efforts to narrow the gender gap.
WIPO has been leading international efforts to collect IP and gender-related data to provide policymakers with the evidence they need to hone effective gender-focused policies. To complement these efforts, in 2022, WIPO issued Guidelines for Producing Gender Analysis from Innovation and IP Data for IP offices, companies and universities. The Guidelines summarize best practices for developing innovation and IP gender indicators. They are designed to help governments and researchers achieve a more equitable gender balance with respect to IP and innovation when undertaking research and designing related policies.
Important work in this area is also being undertaken across the international IP community. For example, the European Patent Office (EPO) is taking action to promote diversity and inclusion in the innovation and IP sectors by highlighting the achievements of successful women inventors and raising awareness about the gender gap in inventing. Through its report, Women’s participation in inventive activity , the EPO shines a light on the major challenge facing European countries in terms of increasing the participation of women in science, citing such participation as a key factor in the future sustainability and competitiveness of the bloc. The report examines the participation of women in the organization’s 39 member states and offers insights and evidence on gender and patenting in Europe to help ensure that diversity and inclusion are top of mind within Europe’s innovation and IP sectors.
A similar drive is evident in Latin America. The Latin American Network of Intellectual Property and Gender is carving a pathway for women to have equal access to the IP system and other resources that will enable them to translate their aspirations into marketable solutions with the full support of their community and institutions. The network includes the IP offices of Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Mexico, Peru, and Uruguay, and the initiative is promoting the exchange of best practices and experiences between participating offices. Their aim? To close the gender gap by equipping women with the knowledge, skills and resources they need to succeed in innovation and entrepreneurship. Cuba, Panama and Paraguay also recently joined the network. WIPO is proud to be an honorary member of this forward-looking initiative.
By sharing and implementing successful strategies and initiatives across the global community in this way, we inspire one another to take action for positive change. As these pioneering initiatives demonstrate, when we work together and combine our knowledge, resources, and passions, we can create powerful synergies that break down barriers and open doors for women in innovation and entrepreneurship for our collective benefit.
When we work together and combine our knowledge, resources, and passions, we can create powerful synergies that break down barriers and open doors for women in innovation and entrepreneurship for our collective benefit.
WIPO prioritizes IP mentoring for women entrepreneurs
Recognizing the value of mentorship in terms of enabling women entrepreneurs to advance their business goals, WIPO is rolling out a variety of IP mentoring programs in different regions of the world. These programs provide guidance, knowledge, and resources to help women-led businesses succeed in protecting and leveraging their IP assets for businesses growth.
For example, in Africa, through WIPO’s IP for Women Entrepreneurs project, 70 women entrepreneurs in Uganda have registered their trademark, an important first step in enabling them to more effectively brand and promote their businesses and compete in the market.
Mentors like Muribu Lilian Nantume are critical to the success of the project, providing access to networks and resources that enable women to unlock their full potential. “We realized that these women are talented but not helped,” says Ms. Muribu, noting that by bringing IP to the grassroots and supporting women at the community level, the project is empowering talented women and helping them to advance their business goals and realize their full potential.
Caroline Matoru, an entrepreneur who took part in the program notes that her newly acquired trademark is instilling greater confidence among her clients. “Now my clients trust my products,” she notes. On the strength of her experience, Ms. Matoru has since joined the program as a mentor. One of her mentees, Florence Nabukenya, who owns a spice business, saw a marked increase in sales and profits after registering her trademark. Thanks to insights gained from the program, Ms. Nabukenya is now collaborating with the local women farmers who produce 75 percent of the raw materials she uses in her product. In so doing, she is supporting local employment and the livelihoods of women farmers who can now pay for their children’s education.
Women can play a key role in narrowing the gap by having faith in their abilities, staying focused on their aspirations, and most importantly, taking action!
Similarly, WIPO’s Asia-Pacific Women Innovators and Entrepreneurs Program is having a positive impact. To date, the program has connected 150 women from India, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Vietnam to the world of IP and innovation. The program has expanded their knowledge of IP, equipping them with the skills and tools they need to tap into and benefit from market opportunities.
Yendi Amalia, a self-made Indonesian entrepreneur with a registered trademark, has been a driving force in mentoring women in innovation and entrepreneurship through this program. Ms. Amalia notes that when women become entrepreneurs they acquire a new identity that gives them the freedom to grow. “Being a woman entrepreneur or leader enables you to have your own identity,” she says. “You don’t want your identity to fade away because you are somebody else’s mom or spouse. Being an entrepreneur gives you a space to develop yourself,” she adds.
Another participant, Dr. Nguyen Minh Tan, has developed an innovative technology to produce tropical fruit juice in concentrated form. The mentoring she has received from IP experts is enabling her to take her technology to the next level. Indeed, she has already submitted an international patent application under the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) to secure protection of her technology in multiple countries, thereby creating the potential to access new markets and expand her business significantly.
Such success stories illustrate the transformative impact that mentoring women on IP can have in terms of supporting business growth, as well as the positive knock-on benefits for the local economy and community.
Our hope is that the success of these women will inspire others to dare to pursue their ambitions.
By creating more opportunities for talented women to access mentoring on IP and business, we can make a real difference. By supporting women inventors and entrepreneurs, we enable them to realize their potential and in so doing, we create a better future for everyone.
By supporting women inventors and entrepreneurs, we enable them to realize their potential and in so doing, we create a better future for everyone.
Now is the time to act
While the persisting gender gap in IP and innovation may seem an unfathomable problem, women can play a key role in narrowing the gap by having faith in their abilities, staying focused on their aspirations, and most importantly, taking action! Empowerment comes from within. No one can give you power if you are not actively involved in the process.
Here are a few ideas on where to begin.
- Find a mentor guide and inspire you on your innovation journey. Seek out mentoring programs, and start building your network.
- Empower yourself through education. The WIPO Academy offers free courses, including distance-learning programs, to help you navigate the IP system. If you are a woman scientist or innovator, check out the Academy’s online courses on IP topics relevant to the sciences to acquire the IP knowledge you need to protect, add value to, and commercialize your scientific research. Learning about IP rights can help pave the way to your success.
- Find out about the services offered by your national IP office. In many countries, IP offices provide services to support and encourage women in innovation and entrepreneurship. These services include guidance on how to submit applications to protect your IP assets, training programs to help you understand and better navigate the legalities of the IP system, and access to funding opportunities. Such initiatives can help you effectively manage your IP assets and realize your business goals.
- Explore WIPO’s “Enterprising Ideas” webpage for free tools like Navigating Intellectual Property for Start-ups and the IP Diagnostic Tool, which help businesses of all sizes assess the strength of their IP.
- Join of the World Intellectual Property Day 2023 campaign. This year’s theme Women and IP: Accelerating Innovation and Creativity, celebrates the “can do” attitude of women inventors, creators, entrepreneurs, and IP professionals around the world. So mark April 26th on your calendar. We look forward to seeing you there!
WIPO’s IP and Gender Action Plan
Our IP and Gender Action Plan, to be published soon, provides a blueprint for the Organization to promote and encourage the engagement of women in IP and innovation ecosystems around the world. WIPO’s IP and Gender Action Plan is built around three pillars of activity:
- Supporting governments in integrating a gender perspective into IP legislation, policies, programs, and projects;
- Leading research to identify the scope and nature of the gender gap in IP and ways to close the gap; and
- Piloting new gender-oriented projects and initiatives to enhance the IP knowledge and skills of women and the institutions that support them.
Acknowledgements: Kristine Schlegelmilch, Patents and Technology Sector, WIPO.