Each year on 26 April, professionals from all over the world join forces to mark World IP Day, a day that aims to celebrate innovation and the role that intellectual property plays in protecting valuable ideas.
This year, the WIPO’s theme is Powering change: Women in creativity and innovation, in a bid to recognise and celebrate women who are shaping our futures and driving change.
Women have been at the forefront of innovation for many years, with some of the most significant inventions having been made by female inventors. So, on World IP Day, we at Potter Clarkson would like to take the opportunity to celebrate some of history’s transformational innovations and the brilliant women behind them.
Stem cell isolation
Ann Tsukamoto pioneered stem cell isolation and was awarded the patent in 1991; advancements which have increased our understanding of blood systems in cancer patients and could one day lead to a cure for the disease.
The fire escape
Now an iconic and essential part of most buildings throughout the United States and beyond, the fire escape with an external staircase was patented by Anna Connelly in 1897.
The solar heated home
In 1947, biophysicist Marie Telke invented the thermoelectric power generator to provide heat for Dover House. As the first 100% solar house, the system endured nearly 3 Massachusetts winters before it failed.
The ice cream maker
The mass market freezer used to produce the ice cream we know (and love) today was first invented in 1843 by Nancy Johnson. A design that has stood the test of time, even after the invention of electronic ice cream makers.
The medical syringe
Keen to improve the design of the syringe, Letitia Geer was granted a patent in 1899 for a medical syringe that could be operated with just one hand.
Women have been at the forefront of computing for a long time. First, Ada Lovelace wrote a rudimentary program in 1843 (though the machine it was on never came in to operation) and then more than 100 years later in 1951, Grace Hopper wrote the first compiler (a program that turns the language in to 0’s and 1’s for the computer to understand).
The square bottomed paper bag
The paper bag as we know it (with a square base) was invented by Margaret Knight when she created a machine that could produce these bags. However, Charles Anan, a fellow machinist, argued that such an invention could never have been invented by a woman, and tried to pass the work off as his own. A long legal battle ensued, before Margaret was finally granted the patent in 1871.
Chemist, Stephanie Kwolek was granted a patent in 1966 for the invention of Kevlar. Used in bullet proof vests, Kevlar® is lightweight, high-tensile and five times stronger than steel, although Kwolek’s invention was actually accidental in the process of trying to create a new material for car tyres.
This ever-popular board game (originally name The Landlord’s Game) was invented by Elizabeth Magie in 1903; her aim being to demonstrate the effects of land-grabbing and capitalism.
General Electric’s first female scientist, Katharine Blodgett successfully created glass that eliminated glare and distortion in 1935, by transferring thin monomolecular coatings to the material. This advanced the technology in glasses, cameras, microscopes and a number of other inventions.
And so the list goes on…
Equally as keen as the World IP Day campaign to celebrate women in IP, we asked some of our female attorneys what they love about working in IP and what advice they would give to anyone looking to get in to the field.
A Career in Intellectual Property
Jane Wainwright – Partner, Biotechnology
Leading by example has to be the best way of inspiring and supporting the next generation of patent & trade mark attorneys. All attorneys, both women and men, in senior roles need to champion diversity and learn how to draw out the individual strengths of all up and coming attorneys. By championing all types of skills within the industry, we can give women the freedom to utilise their strengths for the betterment of clients and the companies they work.
Alice Mortiboy – Assistant, Chemistry
My favourite part about working in IP is the diversity of work, the continual learning process and using my technical background in new ways. Each day involves a new area of science and communicating with inventors and clients all over the world.
Charlotte Crowhurst – Partner, Chemistry
My advice to anyone wanting to start a career in IP would be to be persistent when applying for your first job. In the UK most patent and trademark attorney firms do not advertise training positions but are inundated with CVs. To get that first job you need to be very persistent, regardless of whether you are male or female.
Sara Holland – Associate, Biotechnology
I enjoy using in depth science every day but not in a lab setting and I really love my job! The profession seems to be very family friendly. I entered the profession at the age of 33 and have two children. I sat my exams whilst pregnant or with a young baby. Don’t let the exams put you off, particularly if it has been a while since you sat any exams.
Stephanie Pilkington – Partner, Biotechnology
I really enjoy the variety of technical and legal challenges from projects at different stages, which give me the opportunity to make a difference and to work with very talented inventors, clients and colleagues. My advice to anyone looking to start a career in IP would be; work hard, learn from the best and believe in yourself.