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Strategies To Improve Gender Equity in IP Development and Commercialization


By Craig Moss, Executive Vice President, Ethisphere and Jennifer Brant, CEO of Innovation Insights

New research pdf from WIPO reveals that – across countries and regions – the gender gap in patenting is closing steadily over time. Scaling promising policies and programs from governments and IP offices will be necessary to accelerate progress. In this respect, WIPO’s leadership has been a crucial catalyst for identifying emerging best IP diversity practices and programs.

Recent data from WIPO reveals that, across countries and regions, the gender gap in patenting is closing steadily over time. (Photo: Pict Rider / iStock / Getty Images Plus)

Action at the organization level will be equally as important as having the right government programs in place. Above all, IP diversity is about empowering employees as inventors and ensuring that all talent is recognized and rewarded. Incorporating the perspectives of people from diverse backgrounds can enable companies to more effectively target consumer needs and find new applications for their intellectual property (IP).

IP diversity is about empowering employees as inventors and ensuring that all talent is recognized and rewarded.

Gender parity in patenting is still decades away. Predicted year in which gender parity will be achieved in patenting for each region according to the pace of change seen over the past five years pdf.

Improving IP diversity within organizations

To tackle IP diversity, organizations must proactively enhance diversity in the teams that develop and commercialize IP. They have to ensure that women and people from other underrepresented groups are in the room and have a real voice in the conversation. Action cannot be limited to hiring; new strategies and systems are needed to build a culture that achieves IP equity.

To tackle IP diversity, organizations must proactively enhance diversity in the teams that develop and commercialize IP.

It can be daunting for companies to publish data on IP diversity. Based on self-reporting, it seems that most companies have a long way to go to achieve gender equity in the creation and commercialization of IP. However, transparency can help drive action and reinforce commitments. This is evident from initiatives like the USIPA Diversity Pledge, where more than 50 companies have committed to measuring women’s participation in IP creation and commercialization, leveraging patent data for this purpose.

Companies such as Meta and Lenovo have gone further, committing to publish their internal data on IP diversity. For 2021, for instance, Meta reported that 24.8 per cent of the company’s workers in tech roles were women, with an inventorship rate of 17.6 per cent.

Results from 26 organizations completing the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) program maturity assessment launched by Ethisphere and the Association of Corporate Counsel Foundation achieved an average maturity score of 2.0 on a scale of 0 to 5. Organizations need to develop and implement the management systems and practices that will enable them to back-up their DEI statements with actions.

Without a focused and sustained effort, organizations are going to miss out on the opportunities arising from true IP diversity.

We outline various steps leaders can take to improve IP diversity, together with advice on the right metrics to put into place. These insights are a precursor to a more comprehensive guide to be published by WIPO in cooperation with Ethisphere, Innovation Insights, Qualcomm, and Invent Together in June 2023.

Without a focused and sustained effort, organizations are going to miss out on the opportunities that arise from true IP diversity.

Practical steps to improve IP diversity in your organization

You can take action today to improve IP diversity whether you are a manager responsible for developing and implementing a program to improve diversity in IP development and commercialization or part of a team that generates and leverages IP. Regardless of whether your IP development program is focused on patents, trade secrets, copyright, or registered designs, you can expect that improving gender equity will ultimately improve your results.

Improving gender equity will ultimately improve your results.

In today’s economy, IP is among your organization’s most valuable assets. IP generates value in several ways. It can be used internally to improve existing products and services or to develop new ones, or it can be used to expand your business by licensing it to other organizations. It can also be used to secure investment and partnerships, and is an important element in the valuation of your organization.

What an IP equity program looks like

  1. Recognize everyone’s contribution: Given the value of IP assets, organizations tend to recognize and reward those directly involved in developing and commercializing IP. That is why it is critical that you communicate the importance of being listed as an inventor, and that all people involved in the development process are listed members of the development team . With such a program in place, you will have taken an important first step in recognizing and advancing more women (and other underrepresented groups) within your organization.
  2. Attract and retain talent: Talent attraction and retention are growing concerns to organizations of all sizes. Your IP equity program can showcase your commitment to DEI and thereby give you a powerful competitive advantage in attracting talent. Similarly, it can enable you to retain talent, showing women and others from underrepresented groups a career path. This is one proven way to retain and reduce the loss of talent.
  3. Establish the right metrics: Take a close look inside your organization to identify hurdles to greater equity in developing inventions and their commercialization. Are women given opportunities to participate in priority projects? Are managers more likely to identify men’s contributions when filing invention disclosures? To answer these questions you need to establish the right metrics for your overall IP equity program.
  4. You can’t improve what you don’t measure: The right metrics will help you measure and communicate about the effectiveness of your IP equity program. You will need to establish a baseline and then measure progress over time. Metrics will be key to continual improvement. The right metrics will show shared success among all participants — and demonstrate how the company has benefited.

Metrics and analysis

In addition to enabling you to develop targeted programs that have an impact and drive change, IP diversity metrics enable you to communicate your progress to senior management, members of the program, the organization as a whole, and external stakeholders.

We recommend developing metrics in three distinct, but related areas:

  1. IP equity program maturity metrics
  2. Performance metrics
  3. Employee perception metrics

1. Program maturity metrics are widely used to measure progress on topics ranging from quality control to health and safetyto cybersecurity. Applying a maturity scale to your IP equity program establishes a baseline measurement and provides a clear path to improvement. Typically, maturity metrics use a 0 – 5 scale, with 5 indicating the highest level of maturity.

Key questions for measuring IP equity program maturity:

  • IP equity policies & procedures: Do you have documented policies and procedures that clearly define your expectations for IP equity?
  • Leadership: Do you have senior management support and an established cross-functional team?
  • Training & communication: Do you have an ongoing training program that is supported by frequent short communications on IP equity?

2. Performance metrics measure the results and impact of your IP equity program, with more mature programs generating consistently better results. We suggest that you use performance metrics to track the development and commercialization of patents and trade secrets separately. For many innovative companies, the development and management of trade secrets are important activities, but they require no public filing, involvement in their development and commercialization may not be well documented. Patent-related diversity metrics can be adapted for trade secrets, but this may require creating new procedures for tracking those who are involved in the development and commercialization of trade secrets. Depending on what your organization does, it may also make sense adapt these metrics to other types of IP rights.

Suggested metrics for measuring gender diversity in patenting:

  • % of people listed on patent submissions that are women;
  • % of women that are part of the patent development team;
  • % of commercialized products that rely on patents that list women as inventors;
  • % of patents licensed with women listed as inventors;
  • % of total revenue generated from products or licenses that list women inventors.
Creating a culture where IP equity is embedded in your organization may require employees to change their attitudes and behaviors. (Photo: Giuseppe Lombardo / iStock / Getty Images Plus)

3. Employee perception metrics: Creating a culture where IP equity is embedded in your organization may require employees to change their attitudes and behaviors. Employee perception metrics provide critical information on how well your program is being perceived by employees. If your organization undertakes culture or engagment surveys, you may consider adding a few IP equity questions, where appropriate.

Suggested metrics to assess employee perceptions of IP equity using a scale of 1 to 5 where 5 is the highest indicator.

  • Prior to the IP equity program, how frequently were women included in the IP development and commercialization process.
  • Rate your overall awareness of the IP equity program.
  • Rate how well the program materials or training programs have been customized to your function or location.
  • How effective has the program been in improving or reinforcing the inclusion of women in IP development and commercialization?
  • Would you recommend your employer to a female friend that is a qualified researcher and/or inventor?

Creating a culture of IP equity

An effective IP equity program will embrace the philosophy of continual improvement because the challenges are always evolving, and new people will always be joining your organization.

The ultimate goal is for gender IP equity to become an integral part of your organization’s culture and routine workflow, especially in terms of how IP is developed and commercialized.

Getting senior management support is important – but that’s easier said than done. Senior managers face a plethora of regulatory and social issues. These include compliance; environment, social and governance (ESG); data privacy; cybersecurity; DEI. All of these topics are rightfully taking the time and attention of senior managers, and are being integrated at some level into the overall enterprise strategy.

The ultimate goal is for gender IP equity to become an integral part of your organization’s culture and routine workflow, especially in terms of how IP is developed and commercialized.

Your challenge is to elevate IP equity to a level where it too captures the time and attention of the senior management. The fastest way to do this is to show quantifiable improvements in business performance. Hence the need to adopt the right metrics and data collection approaches.

Formally creating a cross-functional team to monitor IP equity and diversity efforts in the development and commercialization of IP is another important step. Your cross-functional team will include roles that may also be instrumental in IP development and/or have relationships with the third parties that do. These might include operations, R&D, IT, human resources, procurement, sales, and marketing. In establishing your cross-functional team, you want to include people that are senior enough to have authority and a global view of where their role fits into the company’s overall goals. As you develop your IP equity program and related policies or procedures, it will be important to get input from all members of the team to ensure these are workable and practical.

Building awareness across your organization of the value and benefits of gender equity in IP development and commercialization is a core objective.

Building awareness across your organization of the value and benefits of gender equity in IP development and commercialization is a core objective. This requires going beyond an annual training program and committing to an ongoing communications campaign with your staff. Building an effective culture of IP equity means tailoring your message to different audiences, including:

  • Senior organizational leadership
  • Senior departmental leadership
  • Managers
  • People involved in developing and commercializing IP
  • Women involved in developing and commercializing IP

Top 5 Tips for Building an IP Equity Culture

  1. Align your IP equity program with your business objectives.
  • Build a quantfiable business case.
  • Break down IP development and commercialization silos.
    • Establish a cross-functional team to drive a strong IP equity culture.
    • Make sure policies are practical.
  • Train managers to actively embrace cultural change in favor of IP equity because employees mirror the behavior of their supervisors.
  • Use frequent communications to complement training and reinforce IP equity messaging.
    • Use Champion or Ambassador programs.
    • Celebrate success.
  • Use data to create a “measure and improve” cycle.
    • Use maturity metrics and performance metrics.
    • Prioritize and capture the “right” data.

    Looking ahead

    Improving IP equity will require change in your organization along with new policies and processes to inspire change in people’s attitudes and behaviors. An important first step is to establish the right metrics and embrace a “measure and improve” philosophy. Your organization may already use a continual improvement cycle approach in areas like R&D, quality control or health and safety compliance. These can be adapted to IP equity and diversity. In so doing, you improve your chances of bringing about a positive cultural shift in your organization that promises significant returns. Establishing the right metrics is an essential first step in your journey.

    About the authors

    Craig Moss is Executive Vice President of Measurement of Ethisphere and a leading expert on using management systems to improve compliance and risk management performance within companies and across supply chains. He has developed and delivered programs to help companies and their supply chains, measure and improve their performance on a wide range of ESG and compliance topics, including DEI. He has designed and led numerous programs helping Fortune 500 companies and private equity firms to implement management systems to reduce supply chain risk and improve performance. Moss is the Chair of the Licensing Executives Society committee that developed an ANSI global standard for Intellectual Property Protection in the Supply Chain.

    Since 2018, Innovation Insights has worked with the international community in Geneva to raise awareness about the need to appropriately measure and tackle IP diversity gaps at the government and organization levels, in all regions. Jennifer Brant has authored publications about IP diversity, along with other IP and innovation issues, and she was one of the earliest members of the International Gender Champions network.

    Etisphere and Innovation Insights are aligned in calling for data collection and analysis, as well as the application of proven change management strategies that are accessible to any organization to improve IP diversity.

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