World IP Day: Mind the Gap
On World IP Day 2023, Pragmatic’s IP Attorney, Sarah Abou-Shehada, looks at the importance of intellectual property and why the IP gender gap must be addressed
World IP Day is an opportunity to celebrate the critical role that intellectual property (IP) rights – such as patents, trademarks, and copyright – play in encouraging innovation and creativity.
IP rights and systems ensure legal protection for the creations and inventions of a business or an individual, which may include brand names, designs, new products, new methodologies or other intangible assets. For their efforts, IP protection allows creators and innovators to be appropriately recognised and to gain a commercial advantage in relation to their creations. In this way, IP systems incentivise research, development, and innovation – all of which contribute to society’s continued evolution and progress.
Women and IP
The theme of this year’s World IP Day is Women and IP, celebrating the ground-breaking work of women inventors, creators, and entrepreneurs around the world. This is work that has not always been acknowledged – at least not in these women’s lifetimes.
Throughout history, from Rosalind Franklin’s role in understanding the molecular structures of DNA to Ada Lovelace’s ground-breaking work on ‘mechanical computing machines’, many women’s efforts have been diminished, attributed to male collaborators or recognised only posthumously.
This lack of recognition has at least a part to play in the considerable gender gap in IP today.
The IP gender gap
According to a 2022 study by the European Patent Office, only 13.2 per cent of inventors named on European patent applications between 1978 and 2019 are women. Considering this figure was languishing around two per cent in the late 1970s, this is progress, but it’s clear that a considerable gender gap remains.
This can, in part, be attributed to a general underrepresentation of women in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM). Less than a third of female students choose to study higher education courses in STEM, according to the World Economic Forum, while UNESCO statistics show that only around 30 per cent of the world’s STEM researchers are women.
Leading by example
Doctor Catherine Ramsdale, Pragmatic’s Senior Vice President, Technology – herself a co-creator of 18 inventions, leading to 64 granted patents – believes that early intervention is essential if the number of women choosing STEM careers to increase. “STEM outreach activities within primary education – targeting children well before they make decisions about their study pathways – are vital if girls’ enthusiasm for STEM subjects is to be maintained,” she says.
“At upper secondary, fewer girls than boys choose STEM majors, yet girls are at least as good at solving problems in technology-rich environment as boys and there are no consistent gender gaps when it comes to critical evaluation and privacy skills.”
Catherine is a registered STEM Ambassador, and works to engage children through workshops with primary-age children, a science club at a local school, and events with local Scout and Girlguiding groups.
“STEM builds resilience,” she continues.
“STEM subjects stress the value of failure, recognising it as an integral part of success. They also encourage creativity, ingenuity and teamwork – and help to build skills that are immediately applicable in the world of work.”
A career in STEM
A 2017 study by the US Bureau of Labor and Statistics found that 93 per cent of STEM occupations had wages higher than the average salary. However, a 2022 report from New Scientist also found that gender pay gap is increasing – from 19.4 per cent to almost 28 per cent in the UK, and 12 per cent to 17.5 per cent in the US. This means that in the UK, men will earn £6000 above the average and women £6600 below.
This is clearly a large disincentive for women workers. Yet this approach to remuneration is baffling, because there is a strong business case for diversity. As McKinsey’s 2020 report, Diversity Wins, declares, “Companies with more than 30 per cent women executives were more likely to outperform companies where this percentage ranged from 10 to 30, and in turn these companies were more likely to outperform those with even fewer women executives, or none at all”.
Boosting innovation through diversity
It’s important to note that increased diversity in the workplace does not just mean employing more women. Drawing input from all ages, genders, beliefs and ethnicities unlocks innovation and enables companies to target new and broader markets – not least because inherently diverse contributors understand the unmet needs in under-leveraged markets.
 UNICEF, Mapping gender equality in STEM from school to work, 2020