Homemakers to Innovators: Contribution of Women to World Intellectual Property
Women have long been underestimated for their capabilities. However, in the last few decades, women have grown to stand on their own feet. They have gone from being silent to strong, from followers to leaders and from homemakers to innovators.
As we come closer to ending 2023, we celebrate women and their creative journeys, who have contributed significantly to intellectual property. First half of the article provides definitions and explains Patents and the latter half, discusses inspiring case studies of Women Innovators provided on World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO)’s website.
But first things first-
What is Intellectual Property?
As defined by the World Intellectual Property Organization, Intellectual Property refers to creations of the mind, such as inventions; literary and artistic works; designs; and symbols, names and images used in commerce.
What are Intellectual Property Rights?
Intellectual Property Rights as defined by the World Trade Organization, are the rights given to persons over the creations of their mind and they usually give the creator an exclusive right over the use of his/her creation for a certain period of time.
Intellectual property has got legal backing through its types such as patents, copyrights, trademarks, industrial designs, geographical indications and trade secrets.
In this article, as mentioned earlier, the focus will be on Patents.
What are Patents?
A patent as defined by WIPO is an exclusive right granted for an invention, which is a product or a process that provides, in general, a new way of doing something, or offers a new technical solution to a problem.
To obtain a patent, it is required to disclose the technical information about the invention in public through the patent application.
The patent owner receives protection rights meaning that his/her invention cannot be commercially made, used, distributed, imported, or sold by others without consent. This protection is granted usually for 20 years from the day the application is filled.
In India also, a patent is granted for 20 years from the date of filling of application. In the case of patent applications submitted during the national phase under the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT), the patent’s duration will be 20 years starting from the international filing date granted within the framework of the PCT.
The patent system was first introduced in Act VI of 1856. The Patents and Designs Act of 1911 introduced India’s initial patent system, managed by the Controller of Patents, with a 14-year term.
In 1970, the Patents Act was implemented and was later amended in 1999, 2002, and 2005, extending the term of protection for product and process patents to 20 years, establishing a specialised IP Appellate Board, and improving processing efficiency and transparency with stricter timelines.
The rights are consistently amended to keep up with the changing environment and the latest amendment was in 2017.
What are the benefits of IP?
As given by IPI, the benefits have been highlighted under four heads vis a vis – Economic, Promotion of Innovation, Consumer and Societal Benefits and Business Success.
Economy – IP protection significantly contributes to a nation’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) by stimulating innovation as it encourages people and businesses to come up with new and innovative ideas. These protections give them the assurance that their ideas will be safe from being copied or stolen. New businesses, ventures generate employment opportunities, which can have a positive impact on economic growth.
The revenue generated through IP-related taxes contributes to a nation's finances. When a country has strong IP protection, it becomes an attractive place for foreign companies to invest. These investments bring in money and expertise, which can lead to technology transfers.
Promotion of Innovation – IP protection fosters an environment that encourages and rewards innovation. It attracts funding for research and development (R&D) initiatives, providing businesses with the resources needed to drive innovation. Companies with strong IP protection can effectively realise, monetize, and secure value from their innovations. IP protection also helps businesses expand their market value and venture into new markets.
Consumer and Societal Benefits – Consumers benefit from IP protection as it leads to the creation of innovative products and services that enhance their lives. IP drives solutions to some of society’s most pressing needs, and aides in addressing critical issues. By safeguarding against counterfeit products, IP protection ensures that consumers are shielded from inferior and potentially hazardous imitations.
Business Success – Companies that effectively utilise intellectual property rights (IPR) tend to have a higher market value, showcasing the tangible benefits of IP protection.
IP protection is not limited to large corporations; it also supports the growth and success of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).
SMEs that rely on various forms of IP have reported more significant growth, increased income, and higher employment rates compared to their non-IP-using counterparts, in some cases, as much as 20%.
Real World Experiences shared through Case Studies
That being known, now article will focus on a couple of success stories of Women Entrepreneurs as an inspiration to the entire womanhood while highlighting the key role of patents which contributed to their recognition.
A Case from Kenya
Enda means ‘Go’ in Swahili, Kenya’s local language, is a unique company set up in Kenya by Navalayo Osembo-Ombati. By starting Africa’s first running shoe brand she has taken a big step to support her nation’s sports culture, create employment opportunities for the local communities and inspire millions worldwide.
Lessons learnt from Enda’s journey were that Intellectual property plays a critical role in safeguarding innovations and fostering growth and securing their future in an ever-evolving market. IP is equally essential for small businesses, even though some may mistakenly perceive it as reserved for larger enterprises. It acts as a shield against imitators and opens doors to commercial opportunities, particularly in regions such as Kenya where a proactive approach for IP protection can be a great economic advantage.
A Case from India
In India, under the Women Scientists Scheme of the Department of Science and Technology, Government of India, hundreds of women have been trained to create, protect and manage IP. With the help of this training program, several women have started their own IP firm or are working in IPR attorney law firms, some have started their own enterprises and some work in the IP department of government agencies.
For instance, Ms.Archana Doval started her own Navtra IPR Services in Delhi which deals with all facets of IPR including Patents,Trademarks and Design, searching, drafting, filing and prosecution for companies, Universities, Institutes and individuals across the globe. Additionally she arranges IPR awareness workshops and provides training to the students in institutions globally. Similarly, Ms.Dipanthya Banerjee helps start-ups and also assists in framing IP policies for Defence Public Sector Undertakings and other academic institutes. She has also served as a jury member to assess individual inventors or start-ups for numerous competitions.
These women contribute to effectively 10% of the patent agents and IP facilitators actively working with start-ups in India. Initiatives like these contribute to building a more diverse and inclusive innovation environment, allowing women to showcase their skills and achieve their aspirations, ultimately benefiting the entire society.
Additionally, the Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion (DIPP), part of the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, introduced a significant change by modifying Rule 24(C) of the Patent Rules from 2003, which allowed for an accelerated review of patent applications for female applicants or those with at least one female inventor (WIPO World IP Indicators, 2018).
IIP opens doors to innovation and paves a way for progress. To ensure that more individuals and businesses can harness the benefits of IP, it is essential to provide accessible information, user-friendly application processes, and legal support. These efforts not only protect works but also inspire continued innovation, contributing to a vibrant creative world.
Ms. Manasi Pendharkar has pursued her graduation in Economics. Presently, she is working as Academic Research Analyst with Tatvita Analysts.