Celebrate Women Inventors on World IP Day

Judge Kathleen O’Malley (Ret.)

Today is the 24th annual World Intellectual Property Day. The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) established the holiday in 2000 to raise awareness of the ways intellectual property rights — like patents, trademarks, and copyrights — promote creativity and improve our daily lives.

Each year, World IP Day centers on a different theme. This year, WIPO is spotlighting how women inventors, creators, and entrepreneurs contribute to global innovation. At the same time, WIPO is using this year’s World IP Day as an opportunity to encourage more women to participate in the IP system.

Women have pioneered some of the most influential inventions in history. For example, in 1887, Anna Connelly patented the first steel exterior fire escape, an invention that has saved many lives. And in 1971, Evelyn Berezin revolutionized business and technology when she built the first ever computerized word processor.

Despite the immeasurable contributions of these women and thousands of others, women are still significantly underrepresented in the global innovation system.

While the share of patents with women filers has increased slightly in recent years, only 13% of inventors receiving patents in 2019 were women, according to the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). That is not surprising, considering women entrepreneurs often do not have access to the funding opportunities their male counterparts do. Women-owned startups receive only 2.3% of total venture capital financing.

WIPO is right to call for greater inclusivity in the global IP system. We all benefit when women are able to invent, patent, and compete on equal footing with men.

Policymakers should not stand in the way of making America’s innovation economy more welcoming to everyone, regardless of their gender. On the contrary, our elected leaders should look to pass policies that promote innovation and entrepreneurship at every turn.

One important issue relates to what inventions are patent-eligible. A series of court rulings have created considerable uncertainty over what can be patented. Lawmakers can resolve this confusion by reintroducing and passing the Patent Eligibility Restoration Act. The bill would restore patent eligibility in critical fields like artificial intelligence, diagnostics, and gene therapies. It is a common sense reform that would incentivize life-changing innovation from brilliant inventors, including countless women.

The USPTO should continue and expand its efforts to support and encourage women inventors and entrepreneurs, including by demystifying the examination process. A lack of transparency and undue bureaucracy discourages women from pursuing patents to protect their intellectual contributions.

On this World IP Day, our leaders can celebrate women entrepreneurs and support an inclusive IP system by advancing policies that foster a thriving and accessible innovation ecosystem for everyone. We need to tap into female creativity by creating incentives for them to not only participate in, but to lead, in the IP space.

Judge Kathleen O’Malley (Ret.) served on the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit from 2010 to 2022 and the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio from 1994 to 2010. She currently serves as a board member of the Council for Innovation Promotion.

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