Introduction
Background
Benefits of gender diversity in IP system
Programmes for promoting gender diversity in STEM and intellectual property
Comment


Introduction

Intellectual property is a crucial aspect of modern-day commerce and it has become increasingly important in today's knowledge-based economy. IP rights have proven to be critical in providing incentives for innovation and investment, which ultimately drive economic growth.

In South Africa, women are increasingly playing a vital role in the field of intellectual property. Women are becoming more prominent in IP-related professions – for example, IP attorneys – and female researchers are increasingly being cited as inventors on patent applications. In addition, the government and private sector are actively promoting gender equality in the science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) fields, paving the way for increased female representation.

Background

To practice as a patent attorney in South Africa, an individual must have a minimum of a three-year or suitable technical or scientific qualification to enrol for the required patent examinations, in addition to being suitably qualified to practice as an attorney.

In the South African context, only 13% of graduates in STEM fields are women, compared with 30% of STEM students in higher education globally. It can be argued that this creates a gender disparity in the IP profession from the outset, as there are fewer women with the requisite technical or scientific background eligible to become patent attorneys.

According to information from the South African Institute for Intellectual Property law (SAIIPL), a voluntary membership institute of IP professionals, approximately 45% of its practising members are female IP attorneys, practising across the fields of patents, trademarks and copyright. However, only about 22% of its practising patent attorney membership is made up of women. This is not a problem particular to South Africa.

The under-representation of women in intellectual property is also evident in the innovation context, where only 11.4% of inventors cited on international patent applications filed by South Africans between 2019 and 2021 were women, according to the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). Thus, it appears that South Africa still has some way to go in promoting gender equality in both STEM and intellectual property.

Benefits of gender diversity in IP system

Gender diversity in the broader STEM fields, and specifically intellectual property, has several benefits. First, it leads to a more inclusive and diverse workforce, which is essential in today's globalised economy. Second, it results in a wider range of perspectives and ideas, which can lead to more innovative solutions to complex problems.

Third, gender diversity can help address the skills shortage in STEM fields. According to a report by the World Economic Forum, the overall skills shortage in STEM fields is projected to worsen over the next decade. Encouraging more women to pursue STEM careers can help alleviate this problem and provide businesses with the skilled workers they need to succeed in a competitive global marketplace. Finally, encouraging women to enter STEM-based IP professions will enable the IP industry to meet the IP needs of the growing innovation space.

Programmes for promoting gender diversity in STEM and intellectual property

The South African government and the private sector are committed to promoting gender equality in STEM and intellectual property. For instance, the Department of Science and Innovation has established the South African Women in Science Awards, which celebrate the achievements of women in STEM fields. These awards also provide a platform to inspire and motivate young women to pursue careers in these fields.

The private sector is also playing a significant role in promoting gender equality. For example, several multinational companies have launched initiatives to promote STEM education and careers for girls and women. The Siemens STEM programme, for instance, has partnered with schools and universities to offer training and mentorship opportunities for young women pursuing STEM careers.

The South African Companies and Intellectual Property Commission has also taken steps to promote gender equality in intellectual property, by initiating a programme on Women and IP in the small and medium-sized enterprises sector. The programme aims to make intellectual property more accessible to women in small businesses and ensure greater inclusivity in the IP system.

Finally, from the perspective of IP practitioners, the SAIIPL recently announced the creation of a diversity and inclusion committee. The committee aims to improve representation among professionals in the IP field. It will particularly focus on providing mentorship to junior professionals and cultivating an enabling environment for equality within the IP profession.

Comment

The field of intellectual property is undeniably essential to South Africa's economic growth, and women have a crucial role to play in this area. However, despite the progress made in promoting gender equality, more needs to be done to encourage women to pursue careers in STEM and intellectual property.

For further information on this topic please contact Chyreene Truluck at Spoor & Fisher by telephone (+27 12 676 1111) or email ([email protected]). The Spoor & Fisher website can be accessed at www.spoor.com.