Every year, in an effort to encourage people worldwide to consider IP’s role in the world of innovation, we in the IP world celebrate World Intellectual Property Day on April 26. This year’s theme is Women and IP: Accelerating Innovation and Creativity, drawing focus to the ways that women can and do contribute to the world of innovation, and how IP can help them to do it.
In the lead up to this day, MBIP have been utilising our social media accounts (LinkedIn) to share the work of just some of our incredible female clients who are using IP to help them achieve their creative, business, and science goals.
However, despite the value and hard work that women bring to the world of innovation, they are still underrepresented in IP. A report from the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) found that in 2020 only about 16% of inventors listed on international patent applications filed through the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT applications) were women, and only 30% of applications listed at least one woman inventor (WIPO, 2023).
While this can somewhat be attributed to the well-documented lower rates of women studying STEM, the issue goes deeper than that. According to WIPO, the proportion of female inventors listed on PCT applications is smaller than that of women studying STEM fields (WIPO, 2023).
A more likely explanation for this gap is to do with cultural issues in STEM and business fields in-industry.
A great deal of PCT applications list multiple inventors (WIPO, 2023) – collaboration is clearly an important factor in innovation. However, women may face more barriers to networking and mentorship opportunities, which can limit the formation of connections necessary for such opportunities for collaboration, as well as their access to resources and support.
Another factor in the patenting gender gap is a lack of access to funding for women, meaning they may face more challenges in commercialising their inventions. Women-owned businesses often have less access to capital than their male counterparts, making it difficult to bring their inventions to market. Women face bias in the venture capital industry, with female-led startups receiving only a small fraction of the total venture capital funding each year. For example, The State of Australian Startup Funding Report in 2022 found that out of the total capital invested in startups, only 10% went to teams with at least one woman (https://australianstartupfunding.com/).
This is particularly true for women in developing countries, where access to funding for research and development is often limited. Women in these countries may also face cultural and societal barriers that prevent them from pursuing careers in STEM fields, further limiting their ability to obtain patents (Lefeuvre, Raffo, Saito, & Lax-Martinez, 2018).
The issue of gender inequality in the patenting landscape cannot be fixed purely by encouraging more women to study STEM; There needs to be cultural shifts of inclusivity in-industry to ensure women have equal access to mentorship, networking, funding and commercialisation opportunities, and collaboration.
The good news is that advancements are being made.
Although only a small number of international patent applications in engineering and mechanical-related technological fields named at least one woman inventor in 2018, “The participation of women in the international patent system varies across technological fields […] Technologies related to the life sciences are often among the most gender-balanced fields.” (Lefeuvre, Raffo, Saito, & Lax-Martinez, 2018). In some of these fields, the majority of international patent applications even name one woman inventor.
It is worth noting that much of the discussion surrounding women and IP is centered on international patent applications. There is less information available with regards to the gender distribution of applicants for other forms of IP (such as trade marks or designs). If available, this data may provide more insight for better analysis of the overall gender gap in IP.
But IP application statistics are only part of the story – IP professionals need to be supported too. To help encourage women to engage in the IP system, this year on International Womens’ Day WIPO announced an initiative to empower women from developing countries, least-developed countries, and countries in transition, to enter the IP field offering 50 scholarships to applicants from professional fields for the WIPO Academy distance learning courses.
Hopefully, these efforts to promote inclusivity and equal opportunities can make the world of IP a more diverse environment. World Intellectual Property Day 2023 provides an opportunity to reflect on the role of women in innovation and the IP system. By addressing the gender gap that persists in this field hopefully we can ensure that all individuals, regardless of gender, have the chance to contribute to innovation and benefit from the protection of their intellectual property rights.
Lefeuvre, B., Raffo, J., Saito, K., & Lax-Martinez, G. (2018). Women and the international patent system: encouraging trends. WIPO Magazine, 2-7.
The State of Australian Startup Funding. (2023). Cut Through Ventre, Folklore Ventures. Australian Startup Funding.
WIPO. (2023). The Global Gender Gap in Innovation and Creativity: An International Comparison of the Gender Gap in Global Patenting over Two Decades. Development Studies Series. Geneva, Switzerland: World Intellectual Property Organization.