To make a long story short: Let’s make it 50/50!
WIPO with its 193 members aims to develop and establish a “balanced and effective international IP system that enables innovation and creativity for the benefit of all”1. In the year 2000, it was decided by the WIPO member states to designate April 26 as World Intellectual Property Day being the date on which the WIPO Convention came into force in 1970. Since then, the 26th of April is celebrated worldwide as World Intellectual Property Day every year. This special day was designated to increase awareness and understanding of intellectual property and the rights associated with it. This year the theme for World Intellectual Property Day is “Women and IP: Accelerating Innovation and Creativity”.
IP in a blink
Intellectual property (‘IP’) forms a part of our everyday routine and delicately touches all spheres of life starting from our basic needs provided by the food industry and spans all the way to include the entertainment industry. As per the World Intellectual Property Organization (‘WIPO’), intellectual property encompasses the creations of our mind which include artistic works, scientific works, designs, names, images, symbols, etc. Our progress is marked by new ideas and inventions, however, only with the shield of protection would there be an incentive to create new things. Intellectual property rights (‘IPR’) laws ensure that individuals and businesses are protected and motivated to innovate and develop work that would enhance lives and simultaneously advance our economies.
Intellectual property rights are protected under the law by way of patents, copyrights, trademarks, industrial designs, geographical indications, trade secrets, etc. Even if embryonic IPR exist for centuries, the need for the protection of intellectual property on an international scale was recognized in the year 1873 when several inventors refused to showcase their inventions at the International Exhibition of Inventions in Vienna, Austria. Following this event, the Paris Convention for the Protection of Industrial Property came into being in 1883. After several notable milestones in the protection of intellectual property rights, the WIPO was established and in 1974 became the specialized agency of the United Nations responsible for “intellectual property (IP) services, policy, information, and cooperation.”2
Women and IP : the Need to empower women through IP
Women have been pioneers of innovation since olden times and have been slowly but steadily forging their way forward to reach new pinnacles of success in their respective fields. However, gender equality is a distant reality for women. Even in developed countries, there are disparities in working conditions, opportunities, pay scales, economic benefits etc. between men and women. This disparity exists in women’s use of intellectual property protections as well. Alongside the United Nations, WIPO is making efforts to promote gender equality and empower women through its Policy on Gender Equality. Though intellectual property protection is extended to all, there is significant disproportionality in ownership of intellectual property between men and women. To rectify this, WIPO has been working to raise awareness on gender equality, celebrate the achievements of women, gather data and share knowledge on the use of the intellectual property system.
WIPO has conducted various studies on this subject and analysis of the same provides evidence of the disparity in the use of the intellectual property system by women as compared to men. For example, in the year 2015, it was found that out of all the international patent applications filed less than a third were by women inventors. Further, this disparity existed even in creative fields where one United Nations report indicated that only 7% of the world’s film directors were women.3
This year’s theme acknowledges and honours women innovators and creators for their contributions and trailblazing work in their respective fields. It is a positive endeavour to promote gender equality in line with WIPO’s own policy and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. WIPO has credited the work of several contemporary women who are doing groundbreaking, phenomenal work in their fields such as tech entrepreneur Melanie Perkins, singer Beyoncé, and entrepreneur Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw. By celebrating women and their participation in the creation and innovation of intellectual property, this year’s theme aims to set right the “imbalance in gender participation”4 in the ownership of intellectual property.
WIPO also studied the reason for this gender gap that persists in the ownership of intellectual property. Some of the core issues include gender inequality in social and economic life; prejudices and preconceptions about women in various societies; inflexible social structures within which a woman’s growth may be bound5. The effects of these issues vary from country to country. This year’s theme for World Intellectual Property Day is a welcome step in challenging such stereotypes and encouraging women across the world to create and innovate, and importantly to be aware of the mode of taking ownership and protecting their intellectual property rights. Protection of intellectual property would be a leap towards financial independence through ownership of their creations.
Fortunately, we need not look far when it comes to the achievements of women in the intellectual property sector. The Interlegal network boasts of several law firms practising and advising international clients in the protection of their IPR. Within this network are several leading women lawyers working tirelessly in the field of IPR.
One such example is Maude Fréchette, Co-Founder of YULEX, Attorneys and Strategists, LLP practising for more than twenty years and advising clients on intellectual property both locally and internationally as well. She herself draws inspiration from “women entrepreneurs and women with atypical careers” which she highlighted in her article titled “Tribute to female entrepreneurship.”6
Another such inspiring personality is Caroline Berube, Managing Partner of HJM Asia Law & Co. LLC7 , who is admitted to practice in New York and Singapore. Apart from her work as a lawyer in the field of IPR, she also conducts lectures in various institutions on, inter-alia, intellectual property rights law. In the year 2015, Caroline received the Global Inspirational Leadership Award, World Women Leadership Congress and Awards and was also selected as a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum8.
It would be remiss of us not to discuss the contributions of Dr. Teresa Nicoletti, Partner, Mills Oakley Lawyers Pty Ltd., who is a lawyer and a scientist with vast experience in the health and life sciences sector. She holds expertise in the field of patent litigation and has been recognized as a recommended lawyer in the field of intellectual property by the Legal 500 Asia-Pacific Legal9.
Further, Lisa Egan, Partner, Mills Oakley Lawyers Pty Ltd., with her vast experience of over 20 years is known for her technical knowledge in the field of intellectual property rights law10. She has advised clients in leading intellectual property litigations across Australia and advises clients regarding domestic and international protection of their intellectual property.
Erika Juvander Heveus, Partner, Hellström Advokatbyrå KB, is also an experienced lawyer advising domestic and international clients in the field of IPR laws. She has been recognized as a recommended lawyer in 2021 and 2022 by the prestigious Legal 500 EMEA11.
Efforts of young passionate women lawyers must also be commended. Ashneet Hanspal, Senior Associate, Ahlawat & Associates, regularly advises domestic and international clients, ranging from individuals and startups to multinational companies in respect of their IPR protection and filing, enforcement actions, as well as dispute resolution12.
Women make up almost half of the world’s population yet are facing challenges in access to the protection of their intellectual property. The lack of knowledge, access to networks, and financial resources are only some of the issues faced by women in benefitting from the intellectual property rights system. The recognition of this issue and the initiative of WIPO to encourage women on this World Intellectual Property Day would go a long way in creating a more inclusive ecosystem leading to new developments and rapid economic growth. Let’s make it 50/50!