The submarine telescope, invisible glass, retractable dog leashes, liquid paper, and disposable diapers have one thing in common: Trailblazing women were behind each of these innovative products.
We also have women to thank for the invention of Kevlar and the circular saw, development of Scotchgard fabric protector, and the creation of the first solar-heated house back in 1947. In science, a woman, Inge Lehmann, discovered the Earth’s inner core and another, Jocelyn Bell Burnell, was the first to detect pulsars deep in space.
This year’s World Intellectual Property Day, happening April 26th, celebrates these women and the millions of others who have conceived brilliant, unique, useful, creative, profitable, and life-changing ideas. The day’s theme, Powering Change: Women in Innovation and Creativity, honors female visionaries who’ve harnessed their intellectual property rights — their patents, trademarks, industrial designs, and copyrights — to invent, create, and effect change.
For example, today’s pharmaceutical industry would not be the same without the contributions of Gertrude Elion, who patented the leukemia drug 6-mercaptopurine and 44 other advancements, ultimately winning the Nobel Prize in Medicine. Nor would the technology industry be where it is without Ada Lovelace, who created the first computer algorithm, or Grace Hopper, who helped design Harvard’s Mark I computer in 1944.
The ingenuity, curiosity, and courage of women has long served as a foundation of the U.S. economy and driven American progress. Mary Dixon Kies became the first woman to receive a U.S. patent in 1809, staking her ownership claim to the process she invented for weaving straw with silk or thread.
More than two centuries later, female entrepreneurs own more than 11 million businesses and employ about 9 million people. Despite receiving only 5 percent of federal contracts and 5 percent of conventional business loans, our companies grow at 1.5 times the rate of competing enterprises.
Great things spring forth from creators, but as we transform our concepts into realities, we benefit from living in the best innovation climate in the world. The United States does more than any other nation to protect inventions, discoveries, industrial processes, artistic works, and entertainment products. Effective enforcement and engaged government agencies help ensure that Americans creators retain the rights to their intellectual property, control its commercialization or sale, and reap the financial rewards. This system is essential in incentivizing the dreamers who make and improve our world.
American women are fortunate to have good IP laws in place, but we have a critical role to play in preserving and enhancing them. Today’s innovators urgently need greater clarity on patentability in the digital age, new solutions to combat online piracy, and reforms to reduce the costs of securing legal recognition of their inventions.
Women must continue to fight to own and safeguard the fruits of America’s scientific insights, engineering genius, artistic expression, trade secrets, and product creations. Strong IP protections will be part of the legacy we leave to the next generation, so that whatever girls may imagine they, will be empowered to create.
On World IP Day, that’s certainly something to celebrate.
Kasie Brill is the executive director of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Global Brand Council in Washington, D.C., in affiliation with the Global Innovation Policy Center.
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