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Celebrating women inventors on World IP Day



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World IP Day is on April 26, and this year will highlight the vital role of women in innovation and creativity, Patrick Wingrove reports

World IP Day 2018 posterWorld IP Day is fast approaching and we’re ready to celebrate the role of IP in creativity and innovation. After all, would we have brilliant inventions such as the dishwasher, Kevlar or Monopoly today had there been no mechanisms to protect them? They were all patented, so probably not.

Whether you believe IP is vital in spurring creation, one thing is for sure: we definitely wouldn’t have any of those inventions without women. That’s why women’s role in driving change is the theme of this year’s World IP Day.

Many events are being held on April 26 to mark World IP Day (you can see WIPO’s map of events here). For example, in London the Intellectual Property Awareness Network is holding an event on the House of Commons Terrace that will feature Minister for IP Sam Gyimah, IPO CEO Tim Moss and more. In Washington DC, the USPTO is also celebrating with a programme looking at how women came up with innovation that transforms lives. 

Women have a long history of creating revolutionary products and making key discoveries that lead to long-term, life-changing innovations. Current developments around the gene-editing technology CRISPR, for example, would not be possible without Rosalind Franklin’s x-ray diffraction images from 1952. That is something CRISPR-Cas9 co-discoverer Jennifer Doudna is probably well aware of.

But women have been inventing for much longer than that – thousands of years longer. According to self-described "booze historian" Jane Peyton, women were responsible for brewing and developing beer in ancient Mesopotamia. And in Viking culture, only women were allowed to brew the beer that supposedly fuelled men as they rampaged through northern Europe. Pillaging aside, the world would likely be far more a 'bitter’ place (or less) had they not.

Today, more women are inventing than ever before. Where women aren’t directly involved in inventing things, they are increasingly leading the institutions that make those inventions possible. YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki, for example, oversaw the development and release of applications that expanded the company’s reach and helped change the way consumers experience media.

But women’s increasing presence in innovation is not reflected in the patent sphere. According to WIPO’s 2017 Patent Co-operation Treaty Yearly Review, just 31% of patents filed with the organisation included at least one female inventor. That number is double what it was in 2007, but the gender gap is still wide. Assuming that this growth rate continues, women will achieve patent parity with men by 2076.

"Furthermore, only limited data is available with which to measure women’s contributions in other areas of intellectual property, such as trademarks and copyright." WIPO has said on its website. "As such, more work is needed to ensure that both men and women can equally access and use the IP system and profit fully from their creative and innovative assets."

So, in celebration of women in IP, Managing IP would like to recognise some key female innovators (though this list is by no means exhaustive).

·         Marie Curie isolated radium in 1902 and a year later won a Nobel prize for her work on the theory of radioactivity

·         Nancy Johnson invented the hand-cranked ice cream maker in 1843, which is still used today.

·         Maria Beasley is credited with inventing the liferaft in 1882.

·         Monopoly was originally patented as The Landlord’s Game in 1904 by Elizabeth Magie. The game was stolen and sold to the Parker Brothers in 1935, who eventually tracked down Magie and offered her $500 for it.

·         Kevlar fibre, which is famously known as the material used for bullet-proof vests but also found in bicycle tyres, frying pans and musical instruments, was created by Stephanie Kwolek in 1965. It is five times stronger than steel.

·         Shirley Jackson conducted research with subatomic particles that led others to invent the portable fax, fibre optic cables and solar cells. She was also the first black woman to get a PhD from MIT in 1973.

·         In 1991, Ann Tsukamoto developed the ability to isolate stem cells, which has been vital in medical advancements around cancer.

·         Rosalind Franklin took the first X-ray diffraction picture of DNA and confirmed Watson and Crick’s theory of a double DNA helix. Her estranged colleague at King’s College London London allegedly stole the photograph and gave it to the two men who are now widely credited as the discoverers of DNA.

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