Meena Alnajar is an IPilogue Writer, IP Innovation Clinic Fellow, and a 2L JD Candidate at Osgoode Hall Law School
On October 12, 2021, the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) held its third part of the series “Closing the Gender Gap in IP,” titled “Looking at Good Practices.” This part of the series looks to the existing policy changes that, according to the session’s moderator Aurora Diaz-Rato Revuelta, a UN ambassador for Spain, will “trace the path to be followed.” WIPO had a commendably diverse group of panelists. Four speakers from Mexico, Oman, Uganda, and the UK provided their insights and initiatives to close the gender gap in IP.
The first speaker, Anel Valencia Carmona, is the Deputy Director General for Support Services for IMPI, the Mexican Institute of Industrial Property. This organization aims to increase women’s role in innovation and entrepreneurship. Interestingly, when her group attempted to assess the gender gap using patent data, they initially found no way to identify if a man or a woman wrote a patent. The group thus implemented a gender-identifying number which patentees can add to their application if they choose to participate in gathering data on women in IP. Prior to the gender identifier, any applicant without a gender-specific name was considered a man. The statistics demonstrated that from 2014-2018, men filed 62.5% of patent applications, 31.4% of applications involved both genders or were gender neutral, and women filed 6.2%. The project had two main goals: enhancing women’s visibility in the IP space and providing women the information to help them innovate. The team put on weekly podcasts to spotlight women inventors and held sessions with outside experts to help women with IP processes. In creating network opportunities for women in IP, the hope is that entrepreneurial women will be emerged in IP for years to come.
The second speaker, Thuraya Saud Al-Alawi, is the head of the intellectual property section and innovation and technology transfer center at Sultan Qaboos University in Oman. Ms. Al-Alawi also spoke to the barriers in Oman as women are still underrepresented in IP in the country. IP was initially not accessible in Oman. The IP office, located in the country’s capital Muscat, required paper applications. The distance to the IP office and the physical requirements only further discouraged people from filing. However, Oman has recently implemented an electronic patent system set to reduce registration fees by up to 90%. The University has also collaborated with WIPO to set up efforts to incubate women’s ideas and help explain IP policy by setting up a ‘summer school’ program. The hope is to enhance women’s IP knowledge and accessibility to registration to close the gender gap.
The third speaker, Ms. Mubiru Lilian Nantume, is the Founder of Grooming a Successful Woman with Intellectual Mind (GSWIM), a Ugandan NGO to empower women in the community to create a business and utilize IP to commercialize their products. The perception of women’s roles in remote communities is belonging ‘in the kitchen.’ This mindset is a significant barrier to women’s participation in innovation. GSWIM works with women in the community, finding out their interests and passions, then giving them a small amount of capital to help them grow their business ideas. GSWIM equips women with knowledge regarding product development, branding, and IP. The organization further empowers women with business sense by giving them capital and hosting product expos for them to display their work. This grassroots initiative demonstrates how we can collaborate to help all women participate in IP, including those living in remote and metropolitan communities.
The final speaker, Andrea Brewster, is the lead executive officer of IP Inclusive, a volunteer group of UK-based IP professionals. Ms. Brewster emphasizes that inclusivity is crucial, as it will “facilitate and sustain diversity.” Hence, it is essential to have professionals that are willing to grow their networks and practices to involve women. IP Inclusive has several members and hosts joint events across communities. They have a Senior Leaders’ Pledge for business leaders to commit to championing diversity and inclusion. IP Inclusive wishes to focus less on the symptoms of gender disparity, like the pay gap and societal perceptions and targets the underlying causes such as lack of inclusivity and insufficient allyship in the profession.
The commonalities between the panelists included mentorship, encouragement, and accessibility in their communities as methods for encouraging women in IP. With WIPO continuing the series in 2022, the hope is to improve the statistics and perhaps see these initiatives implemented on a larger scale.