The ingenuity and creativity of women innovators is being celebrated in more than 70 countries this Thursday 26th April as part of World Intellectual Property Day 2018. The celebration comes at a time when the total number of female inventors filing international patent applications has tripled year-on-year, according to the most recent figures from the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO).
Making their mark
Women have played a crucial role in IP throughout history, being credited for inventions such as the first computer language and the Mars Rover. While working for the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Hungarian born Maria Telkes focussed her research on solar energy. In 1948 she built the first home completely powered by sunlight. Telkes’ work was ahead of its time - it has taken more than half a century for the potential of solar to be realised.
Seventeen years later, American inventor Stephanie Kwolek created the first in a range of fibres that were strong enough to stop a bullet. The most well-known – Kevlar – was patented in 1966 and is still in use today, protecting police and servicemen across the globe.
This legacy of successful women inventors has carried into the 21st century. When inventor and entrepreneur Mandy Haberman’s child was born with Stickler syndrome – a congenital abnormality that includes a cleft lip – she decided to invent a better way of feeding her daughter. The Haberman Feeder is a bottle designed for infants with sucking difficulties that is widely used in hospitals today. Haberman then went on to invent the Anyway Cup, the world’s first non-spill cup for children.
Women are increasingly taking a leading role in IP, with more women heading up Fortune 500 companies today than ever before, despite the number still being extremely low. Women are in charge of brand-led companies including IBM, PepsiCo, General Motors and Yahoo!.
Despite general improvements in gender equality around the world, gender gaps in patenting persist. WIPO’s latest data shows that 30.5 per cent of international patent applications filed via WIPO included at least one female inventor. While it is encouraging that the number of applications has nearly doubled since 2007, gender parity remains out of reach. At the current rate, gender inequality is predicted to balance out in 2076.
Diverse businesses where employees include all areas of the population are better able to understand their customer base, resulting in innovation that generates maximum growth. In a report by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, closing the gender gap was found to potentially increase GDP in the US by as much as ten per cent. Addressing gender divides remains in the industry’s best interests.
Female inventors are filing more patents and building a legacy of innovation. As women increasingly enter IP awards, lead IP conferences and strengthen a network of women already innovating in the IP industry, 2018 is set to be an empowering year for gender equality.
For further information, see CPA Global's videos highlighting notable women inventors. WIPO's website contains other information on World IP Day themes and events here. Ideas Matter will be participating in IPAN's World IP Day event in the UK and doing further updates from the Houses of Parliament on World IP Day, this Thursday 26th April. (Photo of Grace Hopper, developer of the COBOL computer language, licensed under Creative Commons.)