World 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
"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
So, in celebration of women in IP, Managing IP would like to
recognise some key female innovators (though this list is by no
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
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.
1991, Ann Tsukamoto developed the ability to isolate stem
cells, which has been vital in medical advancements around
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.