Every 26 April, we celebrate World Intellectual Property Day to learn about the role that intellectual property rights (patents, trade marks, industrial designs, copyright) play in encouraging innovation and creativity.

This year’s World Intellectual Property Day campaign celebrates the brilliance, ingenuity, curiosity and courage of the women who are driving change in our world and shaping our common future. [Read ‘A Life of Legal Firsts – The story of Esmé du Plessis’ here.]

POWERING CHANGE: WOMEN IN INNOVATION AND CREATIVITY

Data from the World Intellectual Property Organisation indicates that only 29% of all international patent applications filed in 2015 included at least one woman inventor, scarcely an increase from 17% in 1995. In 2016, women made up only 23% of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) talent globally.

And here in South Africa, while women comprise 55% of the country’s entire workforce, only 31% of entrepreneurs are female. Likewise, a Facebook survey in partnership with the World Bank and OECD showed that only 34% of SA’s SMEs are women-led. Even more alarming, the number of women in technology in South Africa dropped from 40% in the 1980s to 20% at present.

So why is it important to close the innovation and IP gender gap? Patent Attorney, Dr Charleen Rupnarain, explains that studies have shown that increased participation by women improves the innovation performance of organisations and societies. “Diverse, inclusive teams are more innovative, and diverse companies are more profitable. The start-up fund First Round Capital looked at 300 companies, and women-led firms produce extremely attractive returns. In founding teams with at least one woman, the returns were 63% higher than that produced by all-male teams,” she adds. Charleen was joined by Adams & Adams Partner, Janice Galvad, at the University of Pretoria’s World IP Day celebrations, where they highlighted the role and successes of women in IP in Africa.

Women bring a different perspective, and women innovators help to ensure that new products and processes meet the needs of the whole population. Innovation refers to new products, new processes, or new ways of doing things. Creativity refers to new forms of original artistic expression. Today’s products and technologies are the result of research and development, experimentation and invention, and are all innovations.

Innovation and creativity are supported and protected by intellectual property. The purpose of IP is to encourage innovation and creativity by making sure that innovators and creators can protect their work, and are fairly rewarded for their work. The prospect of an economic reward encourages people and businesses to invest in developing useful innovations and creations.

There is a growing recognition of the need to close the IP gender gap through initiatives that encourage and support women innovators and creators. Here are a few initiatives highlighted by our professionals:

Johnson & Johnson introduced the Africa Innovation Challenge, to encourage entrepreneurial thinking in Africa and the creation of consumer health care solutions that address the critical unmet needs of the continent and her people. Grace Nakibaala, a young Ugandan architect, came up with a solution to improve hygiene in hospitals, through an innovation that is making it easier to wash hands. Her invention earned her an accolade as one of the three winners of the Innovation Challenge. Read Grace’s story here.

Standard Chartered Incubator’s Women-In-Tech programme aims to develop and support women in technology across Africa. The program combines world class startup support with local and international experience to provide Africa’s most competitive and attractive startup incubation program focusing immersive learning, mentorship, building and growing Africa’s next iconic startups taking on the continent’s most relevant challenges and opportunities.

Code for Cape Town (Code4CT) is a programme that introduces young girls to basic web building skills and exposes them to opportunities in the Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) sector. Participants are trained in web development, design principles, as well as courses in professional development. Code4CT aims to inspire a generation of young girls who are well-prepared with a toolkit of technical and soft skills in order to achieve high impact in the workplace.