How can intellectual property rights empower women?


By Apoorva Murali

This year, the theme for the World IP Day is “Women and IP: Accelerating innovation and creativity”, a topic which is relevant and keeping with the tone of inclusivity and promoting diversity, at the workplace, whether it be a science lab, the court room, a class room or a board room.

Studies have shown that a woman can play a pivotal role in the growth of the economy and society, when empowered with education and opportunity. The pandemic saw women being impacted in a disproportionate manner when it came to loss of employment and withdrawal from work force. Empowering women and encouraging their participation in the economy helps in the overall health of an economy. Furthermore, incentivising participation, by providing recognition and protection to the contribution of women towards innovation and creativity causes a ripple effect which can motivate the generations of young girls to come.

I can still recall the day in 1997 when Kalpana Chawla flew into space for the very first time in the Space Shuttle Columbia. Millions of girls in India felt the ripple effect of Kalpana Chawla’s accomplishment. It was a glimmer of hope and the spark igniting the courage in millions of girls to dream, and to dream big.

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While the gender gap in innovation and creativity is far from closing, the last year has seen some amazing women showcase their talent and brilliance, which has been appreciated and recognised at a global stage. We saw Guneet Monga and Kartiki Gonsalves make India proud with their win of the esteemed Oscar for the Best Documentary Short category. Guneet Monga and Kartiki Gonsalves were lauded for their short film “The Elephant Whisperers”, which is based on the lives of a tribal couple who care for baby elephants. This win is historic for many reasons. However, if one were to solely focus on the creative aspect of the film, the recognition of these two women’s creative talent is a thrust towards promoting women participation in creative fields such a film making, directing, producing etc. These lines of work have historically been male dominated with little to no participation by women, specifically in more pivotal and leadership roles. Ironically, most women-centric roles and films that have been produced, directed and even written over the years, have been by men.

2022 also saw women excelling in other fields, one example being, the Nobel Prize in Chemistry granted to Carolyn Ruth Bertozzi jointly with Karl Barry Sharpless and Morten P. Meldal “for the development of click chemistry and bioorthogonal chemistry”. While women still form part of a mere 6% of the recipients of all Nobel Prize, since its inception, it is encouraging to see wins for women such as Carolyn Ruth Bertozzi. It is also a reminder to us as a society that inclusivity of women in the work force and recognition of their accomplishments in a timely and fair manner is a very real issue which remains to be addressed even in 2023.

The International Chamber of Commerce published a study which showed that copyright-based industries and related sectors account for approximately 4-11% of the GDP in G8 countries. In addition, the World Bank has published that bridging the gender employment gap is likely to have a long term impact on the GDP per capita by almost 20%.

Accordingly, there have been initiatives by the government to promote women in the field of innovation.

In India, the National Intellectual Property Rights Policy, which was adopted in 2016, makes a specific reference to “encouraging and supporting capacity building among Women Creators, Innovators, Entrepreneurs, Practitioners, Teachers and Trainers”. In fact, the Patent Rules, as amended, provided a mechanism for expedited examination, wherein this option was available inter alia where the applicant or one of the applicants is a women. While encouraging, there is definitely a need for more such measures to ensure a full and inclusive participation by women in the workforce and for them to reach their full creative and innovative potential.

(The author is Principal Associate – Intellectual Property, Shardul Amarchand Mangaldas & Co)

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