Global WIIN: Empowering women inventors through IP

When it comes to invention and scientific discovery, women have pioneered innovations that have reshaped our world. Ada Lovelace is one of the most notoble women inventors of recent history. She didn’t just write code; she imagined a future where computers would become an integral part of our lives, crafting the first algorithm intended for more than mere calculation.  Stephanie Kwolek, a chemist with a knack for solving problems, invented Kevlar, which was initially unexpected, but turned out to be revolutionary, offering unmatched strength and protection that transformed industries and saved lives.

Moreover, today’s medical and agricultural frontiers are being reshaped by women inventors including Dr Jennifer Doudna, whose co-development of CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing technology has revolutionised how scientists manipulate genetic material, offering new ways to combat diseases and improve crop resilience.Simultaneously, Dr Shirley Ann Jackson’s theoretical physics research has propelled innovations in telecommunications and electronic systems, significantly enhancing data transfer and communication technologies across the globe.

These women inventors have been instrumental in shaping our technological landscape and expanding the boundaries of what is achievable, just as their historical counterparts, such as Hypatia of Alexandria did.

Despite their undeniable contributions, women inventors often report feeling isolated in predominantly male environments and that their contributions are not always spotlighted. This sense of isolation reflects not only past prejudices, but also ongoing challenges in achieving gender equality. The gender gap in intellectual property is particularly striking, with only about 16 percent of patent applications filed under the World Intellectual Property Organization’s (WIPO) Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) listing women inventors. Current trends suggest that achieving gender parity among inventors could take until 2064, highlighting the need for action.

In this World IP Day article, Dr Marianne Privett, a partner at AA Thornton, discusses Sustainable Development Goal 5 (SDG 5) with Dr Bola Olabisi from Global WIIN. SDG 5 aims to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls. Together they explore the intersections between women inventors, the goal of gender equality, and how intellectual property rights can support their achievements. Through this lens, they look at how elevating and securing the intellectual achievements of women will help humanity to build a more inclusive and innovative future.

Dr Bola Olabisi is the founder of the Global Women Inventors & Innovators Network (GlobalWIIN), an organisation aimed at supporting women in science, technology and innovation. GlobalWIIN provides a platform for women to showcase their inventions, and offering resources, networking opportunities and advocacy to help address the gender gap in these fields.

GlobalWIIN’s efforts under Dr Olabisi’s leadership contribute to promoting gender equality in science and technology, encouraging more women to enter these fields and supporting them in their professional development.

Dr Bola Olabisi of Global WIIN.


Marianne: Bola, what inspired you to establish GlobalWIIN, and how do you believe it addresses the unique challenges faced by women inventors and innovators?

Bola: When GlobalWIIN was set up more than 25 years ago, there were many challenges that made the path to market difficult for inventors, especially in the area of intellectual property. This led me to create a platform that would amplify the voices of women inventors and innovators. Even though we have made some progress, many challenges still exist, highlighting the need for ongoing research, development, and support. GlobalWIIN was born from the need to support women in bringing their commercially viable products to market, highlighting the importance of having a dedicated platform to address these issues.

Marianne: It’s impressive that you started GlobalWIIN 25 years ago, long before the United Nations established the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). SDG 5 aligns with the aims of GlobalWIIN since it seeks to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls. What do you see as the most significant barriers to women achieving equality in the fields of invention and innovation and what solutions does GlobalWIIN propose or implement to overcome these barriers?

Bola: It’s important to note that inventors and innovators often face a tough path to success or market entry due to the disruptive changes they introduce. Women face even more challenges, such as low representation of women holding patents and limited access to investment opportunities. The challenges are varied, including the complexities of intellectual property, limited access to funding from both public and private sources, and both conscious and unconscious biases. In my view, we should promote initiatives that increase awareness and improve access to necessary resources, as protecting one’s intellectual property can require a significant amount of time and money.

Marianne: Increasing women inventors’ and innovators’ awareness of intellectual property should enable them to recognise the value in their intellectual property, but in what ways do you believe that robust intellectual property rights can support and empower those women?

Bola: It’s crucial for women to possess the ability to assert their right to reap rewards from their efforts. This is why it’s vital to have a deep understanding and make informed decisions to avoid any infringements. By aiding women to grasp the details of intellectual property, they can become more empowered. Currently, GlobalWIIN benefits greatly from the support and assistance of IP organisations like the Chartered Institute of Patent Attorneys (CIPA) and the Intellectual Property Awareness Network (IPAN). As a board member and director of IPAN, I am proud to be part of these organisations. This demonstrates our commitment to promoting diversity and inclusiveness, as well as advocating for the importance of understanding IP as a crucial factor in the success of businesses of any size.

Marianne: It’s encouraging to hear of the support for GlobalWIIN from organisations across the IP profession. Such support should benefit women inventors and innovators to gain value from their IP. However, thinking of individuals, could you share an example from your network of where intellectual property support has benefited a woman inventor or entrepreneur?

Bola: Many women in the GlobalWIIN network have excelled in advancing their inventions through their determination and efforts in protecting their IP rights. A notable example is Mandy Haberman, an entrepreneur famous for inventing the Anywayup® cup, the world’s first completely non-spill toddler cup. Through her experiences, she has become a respected figure in addressing corporate theft and patent infringement, successfully protecting her intellectual property in the USA, UK and Europe.

Marianne: I agree Mandy is a great example of someone who has not only obtained IP rights to protect their innovation, but also asserted those rights. She now has more than 30 years’ experience in intellectual property but was once entirely new to IP. What advice would you give to aspiring female inventors who are new to navigating the world of intellectual property?

Bola: I’ve found that intellectual property can be quite complex sometimes and having a good IP lawyer is beneficial. GlobalWIIN’s one-stop-shop approach has simplified this for our members as we guide them to the support they need. Our platforms and programs can greatly help individuals on their journey. I recommend that women take proactive steps to protect themselves from potentially costly situations by continuously improving their knowledge and understanding, building a strong network of colleagues, professionals, and specialists in the field of intellectual property. This can include participating in events that provide opportunities for knowledge sharing, mentorship, and coaching. GlobalWIIN continues to offer the platform and resources to support this.

Marianne: I note that you refer to a good IP lawyer being beneficial and, of course, I agree. At AA Thornton we seek to assign the right IP professional or team of IP professionals to each of our clients’ projects to ensure we offer the best possible advice. We also seek to foster equity within the IP profession and within the services we offer our clients. How important are partnerships between IP firms and networks like GlobalWIIN in addressing the gender gap in IP?

Bola: It is imperative for IP firms to recognise and support the significant role that platforms like GlobalWIIN play in promoting inclusivity in this industry. GlobalWIIN values collaboration with IP firms as it is crucial in increasing awareness and extending its reach. IP firms should focus on networking with individuals who are typically harder to engage, by offering their services in a way that reflects shared goals and mutual understanding. This approach will enhance the exchange of knowledge and help develop capacity building programs. Ultimately, this will aid in raising awareness about intellectual property and its importance in fostering innovation and growth, with a special focus on promoting gender diversity and inclusion.

Marianne: Thank you, Bola for taking the time to discuss this important topic with me. I am encouraged that gender equality within the fields of invention and innovation has improved since GlobalWIIN started 25 years ago. Nonetheless, a lot remains to be done to increase women’s awareness of IP and their use of the systems that can be used to protect it. I look forward to working towards the goal of gender equality within this area together. 

This article is a part of our World IP Day series exploring the role of IP in achieving the UN’s sustainable development goals and ‘Building our common future with innovation and creativity’. Click here for the introductory article and links to the full series.

If you have any queries regarding this topic, or would like assistance creating or implementing an IP strategy, please contact our team.

Category: Latest Insights | Author: Marianne Privett | Published: | Read more