Women in IP: Innovating and Inventing for the Future

By Jayne Durden

As International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month are being celebrated in March, it is important to remember that women are making a particular mark on the future of IP.

Female innovation has made a significant mark on history. Female inventors can be credited for momentous inventions such as windshield wipers, the first computer language and even the Mars Rover.  During WW2, screen actress Hedy Lamarr even invented a form of wireless communication that formed an unbreakable code to prevent classified messages from being intercepted by Nazi personnel. Granted a patent on 11 August 1942, Lamarr’s design is one of the important elements behind today's spread-spectrum communication technology, such as modern CDMA, Wi-Fi networks, and Bluetooth technology.

The Estée Lauder Companies Inc. is a provider of cosmetics, founded in 1946 by American businesswoman Estée Lauder.  Lauder was the only woman on Time magazine's 1998 list of the 20 most influential business geniuses of the 20th century, went on to be awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom and was inducted into the Junior Achievement U.S. Business Hall of Fame in 1988. The Estée Lauder companies Inc. now sells products in more than 150 countries and territories under brand names including: Clinique, Tommy Hilfiger, MAC, Bobbi Brown, Jo Malone London and Tom Ford. All of which are trademarked.

And this legacy of successful women has been carried into the 21st century. Consider inventor Sara Blakely, who at just 27 invented Spanx. Not only did she develop a product with nothing more than a pair of scissors and pantyhose, after failing to find an affordable patent attorney in her state of Georgia, she purchased a textbook from Barnes & Noble and wrote her own patent. Her research showed that constructed names– such as Spanx– were more successful and easier to register as a trademark. In 2014 she was listed by Forbes as the 93rd most powerful woman in the world.

Taking the lead

Fortune Magazine has revealed that by the end of April 2017, there will be more women leading Fortune 500 companies than ever before. In 2015 there were 24 female CEOs of Fortune 500 companies. Women lead operations for prolific brand led companies including; PepsiCo, IBM, General Motors, Avon Products, Hewlett Packard and General Motors.

In the world of IP, Michelle Kwok Lee has been Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) since 2014. From building her own TV as a child, obtaining an engineering degree from Stanford University, working as a computer scientist and registering as a patent attorney– Lee is a shining example of innovative women breaking the STEM and IP stereotype.

Better together

Women are chronically under-represented across STEM fields with female employees filling fewer than a quarter of STEM jobs. But things are gradually changing.  There are a number of leading campaigns and events to encourage girls to take up science-based subjects at school and enter the STEM workforce. These young women will form the future of IP, and the women who will manage their portfolios are also banding together for support.

The Women In IP organisation was formed with the mission of facilitating networking for female lawyers who practice intellectual property law in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. ManagingIP developed the Women in IP network to bring female IP professionals together, WIPO introduced an initiative for Women in IP and IPO now has an all-female committee.

Women have a greater role in innovation and IP than ever before, producing ground-breaking inventions and taking leadership of multimillion pound technology companies. According to a recent WIPO study 29% of the international patent applications filed via WIPO in 2015 included at least one woman inventor, compared with 17% in 1995. Women are filing more patents and building a more longstanding legacy of female’s driving innovation and the women involved in IP management are ready and waiting to protect their activity.

The future of IP will be decidedly more female!

Jayne Durden is Vice President, Client Solutions Architecture, at CPA Global.