This April 26th is World IP Day! WIPO – which organises the annual World IP Day – has announced that this year’s theme is “Women and IP: Accelerating Innovation and Creativity”.
The theme (Women and IP) aims to show how women in all regions are shaping the world through their imagination, ingenuity, and hard work, but often face significant challenges in accessing the resources, knowledge, and support they need to thrive. Despite these challenges, across the world women are driving scientific breakthroughs, setting new creative trends, and building and leading businesses that transform our world.
In this context, WIPO expressed that even though women bring new perspectives and talents to the table, there is still an elephant in the room left unaddressed: too few women get involved with Intellectual Property, which means few women benefit from it. This Intellectual Property gender gap is a real problem that can be easily confirmed by looking at available data on international patent applications through the PCT system (only 16% are filed by women) or the EPO system (13.2%). How many countless brilliant minds and their ideas are left untapped! WIPO estimates that at current rates, gender parity among PCT-listed inventors will not be achieved before 2064.
The World IP Day of 2023 has been chosen by WIPO as an opportunity to raise awareness of the need to encourage more women to use the IP system to protect and add value to their work.
Intellectual Property Offices around the Globe (e.g. IP Office of the Philippines, Business and Intellectual Property Authority of Namibia, INPI Brazil, European Patent Office, EUIPO, WIPO, among others) have come together to support diversity within its offices and organizations and across the IP system, with the theme for International Women’s Day: “DigitALL: Innovation and technology for gender equality.”
Naturally, the International IP SME Helpdesks have joined forces hereby to address this issue by supporting women innovators in unlocking their innovative ideas. To do so, the Helpdesks have compiled initiatives being carried out by countries and IP national offices to support women in their IP journey in Africa, China, India, Latin America, and South-East Asia.
At the Pan-African level, important developments are underway for women and IP, namely since in 2023 state parties are expected to formally adopt the highly anticipated African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) IP protocol which, along with the rest of the agreement, holds key implications for women in innovation and entrepreneurship. It is important to highlight that besides protocols regulating specific trade-related matters, namely trade in goods and services, investment, intellectual property rights, and competition policy, the agreement would allow for the creation of additional instruments should they be deemed necessary to further the objectives of the AfCFTA.
The Engine of Trade in Africa report – convened by the AfCFTA Secretariat, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), and the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women) – outlines that the lack of knowledge about market opportunities, limited access to information relating to customs regulations, procedures, and the lack of basic information on IP rights are some of the main challenges for women in trade.
Within this report, proposed solutions to this issue include “support to female traders in patenting and protecting their innovations, especially in the handicraft sector, and integrate gender-related provisions on intellectual property rights”. The adoption of the protocol is still in process and so is the implementation of the AfCFTA, which provides many opportunities for developments in this field.
Through a joint webinar on “Intellectual property protection under the ACFTA” organised with the Organization of Women in International Trade (OWIT), the Africa IP SME Helpdesk aimed to raise awareness on the importance of IPR as an effective tool for trade for SMEs.
Other initiatives include WIPO’s IP for Women Entrepreneurs project implemented in Uganda, under which 70 women entrepreneurs in Uganda have registered their trade mark, increasing their competitive edge in the market. This feat was achieved in collaboration with the Ugandan organization Grooming a Successful Woman with an Intellectual Mind (GSWIM). As reinforced by the focus of World IP Day 2023, WIPO is actively encouraging national IP Offices’ efforts aimed at supporting women in their IP journey.
It is worth mentioning that the first Geographical Indication (GI) ever registered in Africa – Argan oil – lies on the contribution of national experts including the female chemist Zoubida Charrouf. Through her doctoral research, she first identified the active material of the argan tree before creating theIbn Al-Baytar Association to federate women producers.
China has demonstrated remarkable progress when it comes to the share of female innovators in the country. According to the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), among the top 20 countries with the largest proportion of women inventors in 2021, China ranks third with 23.7%.
According to the China National Intellectual Property Administration (CNIPA), this achievement is due to various policies and programs implemented by the government to support women's entrepreneurship and encourage their participation in science, technology, engineering, mathematics (STEM), and other disciplines. These policies focus on three principles: protection of women’s rights and interests and raising society’s awareness of gender equality; ensuring women’s right to education and employment; and creating a fair workplace environment (e.g., Women’s stress-relief mechanism).
In 2021, The Ministry of Science and Technology and the All-China Women's Federation, as well as 11 other related departments, launched a series of measures to support female researchers in playing a greater role in sci-tech innovation. These measures include training, financial support, and support during maternity.
When it comes to practicing IP law, China has more female IP practitioners than male, since about 53% of employees engaged in China’s IP service industry are female.
Besides national initiatives, China is also actively participating in international projects aimed at promoting women's participation in innovation and intellectual property. Namely:
• “WeEmpowerAsia”, launched in 2016 by the United Nations, project works with businesses, governments, civil society organizations, and other stakeholders to increase women's access to economic opportunities and leadership positions.
• “Women Entrepreneurs Finance Initiative” (We-Fi), a global partnership launched in 2017 by the World Bank Group, supports women entrepreneurs in developing countries by providing them with access to capital, markets, networks, and other resources needed to start and grow successful businesses. China is one of the founding financial contributors.
• "Together Digital" program launched jointly by the UN Women and Ant Foundation aims to support women-led micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) in participating and thriving in the digital economy.
• The Asia Pacific Women Innovators and Entrepreneurs Programme, launched in 2022, with 12 episodes of weekly webinars, attended by 50 participants every week from Sri Lanka, Nepal, Viet Nam, India, and China, reaching a total of 150 women entrepreneurs and inventors.
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.
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 launched the Women in Science (WISE). 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.
Apart from WOS, in order to boost the Indian government women entrepreneurship has launched numerous programs such as Vigyan Jyoti Scheme, Bio-CARe, KIRAN schemes and further encourages women in research and development activities. Additionally, the Department of Science and Technology has provided enhanced funding and support for women's universities under the CURIE program (Consolidation of University Research for Innovation & Excellence in Women Universities).
Specifically on the patenting front, the WIPO World IP Indicators of 2018 found that 28.3 percent of international patent filings in India had females listed among the inventors. Apart from that, there was a major step taken by the Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion (DIPP), Ministry of Commerce and Industry by amending Rule 24(C) of Patent Rules, 2003 provided means for expedited examination of the patent application for female applicants or any application having at least one female inventors.
In Mexico, the Institute of Industrial Property (IMPI) launched the Network of Innovative Women and Industrial Property (Comunidad Digital de la Red de Mujeres Innovadoras y Propiedad Industrial) in 2021. Thanks to this Community, IMPI offers women a variety of resources, including skills-building, mentoring, and other training opportunities to help them add value and commercialize their innovative technologies.
As to Brazil, recent statistics (2023) show that women account for a third of the inventions in Brazil. This is a huge increase from roughly 12% of patent applications in 2002, to 33% in 2023.
In Peru, the Instituto Nacional de Defensa de la Competencia y de la Protección de la Propiedad Intelectual (INDECOPI) reported that, in 2022, 54 % of national patent applications received included at least one female inventor. This means a growth of 13 percentage points compared to 2021.
The Regional Alliance for the Digitalization of Women in Latin America and the Caribbean was presented in 2021, to promote the full participation of women in areas related to Science, Technology, and Innovation (STI) and to promote inclusive STI ecosystems. This Alliance was possible thanks to, among other institutions, the UN’s Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC).
Since its creation in 2021, 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, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay, and WIPO is acting as an honorary member of this initiative.
This network facilitates the exchange of good practices, stats, and experiences between the Offices to close the gender gap and empower women in the region concerning innovation and entrepreneurship. It has two objectives:
- The management of national offices: strengthen the capacities of national offices to incorporate gender equality through awareness-raising activities and prepare a situational diagnosis with official statistics.
- The dissemination and promotion: Carry out activities to achieve the recognition and visibility of women in IP, through the dissemination of success stories, seminars, workshops, and publications.
According to a recent study on gender equality in Asia-Pacific, women would represent 35% of the workforce of listed Asia-Pacific companies (4% of CEOs, 10% of chief financial officers, and 5% of board chairs).
Like the rest of the world, countries from SEA also understood the need to fight against gender and diversity gaps. Specific policies and initiatives were initiated in several countries notably in the field of innovation.
In the Philippines, the IPOPHL, as one of the leading IP Offices from SEA, is paving the way by establishing a series of programs in favor of women inventors and designers.
By the end of March 2023 (as part of its Women’s Month celebration), the IPOPHL launched the Juana Patent and Juana Design Protection Incentive Programs (JPIP). As a result, eligible women may benefit from financial support (waiving the fees when they apply for invention patent grants or register their utility models or industrial design). This program follows a successful similar program which was focusing on trademarks (the Juana Make a Mark Program). It is also worth mentioning that in 2020, the IPOPHL launched the Women In IP magazine (WinIP) to further encourage women to become active players in intellectual property creation, protection, and commercialization in the country (only 2 volumes were published on the website of IPOPHL).
This year, for celebrating National IP Month, the IPOPHL decided to highlight the contributions of women in fashion by collaborating closely with leading textile and culture agencies (the National Commission for Culture and the Arts and the Philippine Textile Research Institute). On April 26, 2023, locally made fabrics and accessories from different communities of the Philippines will be exhibited at the 2023 Gawad Yamang Isip Awards and Fashion Night (a special World IP Day event). This initiative is part of a series of collaborations initiated by IPOPHL within its BRIGHT AGENDA (running from 2023 to 2025).
Singapore is also addressing both the gender and diversity gaps for several years. In 2006, the Ministry of Manpower, the National Trades Union Congress, and the Singapore National Employers Federation formed a Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices (TAFEP). The alliance set specific guidelines for employers (they must recruit and select employees based on merit and regardless of age, race, gender, religion, marital status, and family responsibilities, or disability).
In a similar way, the IPOS, another leading IP Office of SEA established procedures to ensure all its IP policies are drafted in an inclusive manner. This year, the IPOS will once again celebrate World IP Day by organizing a unique panel discussion to tackle the topic of women in innovation and intellectual property.
From a regional point of view, ARISE + IPR (an EU-funded Project) highlighted several times the existence of a gender gap in terms of intellectual property rights-intensive industries in its Annual Work Plans. Therefore, a specific activity was run from October 2022 to March 2023 to draft a publication on ASEAN Women in Intellectual Property. The goal was to identify women mentors and key figures to be shown as examples for female entrepreneurs.
If you have any doubts about how to benefit from any of these initiatives above-mentioned or want to internationalise to Africa, China, India, Latin America, or South-East Asia, and know more about IP protection before you go, don’t hesitate and contact the International IP SME HDs.
- Publication date
- 26 April 2023
- European Innovation Council and SMEs Executive Agency