By Lorenzo Montanari
In many parts of the world, women are not treated equal to men under the law. From owning land to obtaining inheritance, women are at a disadvantage. Stronger intellectual property protections can help alleviate this discrepancy. When IP rights are strongly protected, the rights of women are protected as well. For example, the countries with the strongest protection of copyrights also tend to have the highest paid actresses and female artists.
April 26 is commemorated as World IP Day by WIPO, the World Intellectual Property Organization. Celebrated internationally, the goal of World IP Day is to promote knowledge about intellectual property (patents, copyright, trademarks) and their role in promoting innovation and creativity. This year, World IP Day’s theme “Powering change: Women in innovation and creativity” will celebrate women and their role in shaping the future of society.
The protection of intellectual property rights is vital for economic growth. Intellectual property rights are so important that they are enshrined in Article 27 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948, which states “everyone has the right to the protection of the moral and material interests resulting from any scientific, literary or artistic production of which he is the author.”
Elena Panaritis, author of Prosperity Unbound, founder and CEO of Thought 4 Action, explains that practice shows that women become more civically involved in the politics of their community and country, as well as and powerful market players, leaders of innovation and middle class once they are given secure ownership of their property rights. Women’s involvement increases over 53% in such countries.
The protection of IP rights restores this financial incentive to create and innovate, by giving owners and content creators exclusive power over their creations. For women, this is of huge importance. Statistics have shown that countries with stronger IP rights tend to have stronger measures of gender equality. “Women in the economy are a powerful force for change and leadership. Intellectual property rights when used correctly can advance entrepreneurship by enabling women who develop innovative ideas and products to secure financing, signal their innovation, and negotiate access to the IPRs held by others. IP systems should recognize and protect creativity in all its forms, including contributions from traditional and indigenous knowledge developed by women,” said Prof. Walter G. Park, of American University and author of the Patent Index.
The focus on the protection of intellectual property comes at a time when IP rights are both of their highest importance to the global economy and the most at risk. IP-intensive firms account for more than 38% of GDP and 45.5 million in the U.S., and 42% of GDP and 82 million jobs in the EU. These industries not only support jobs, but high-paying jobs. In the EU and U.S., workers earn 46% more in IP-intensive sectors than workers in other sectors.
Without strong rights protections, innovation is stifled as content creators lose a large portion of their incentive to create – profit. In the absence of effective IP laws, creative works can be infringed upon, reproduced without needing the creator’s permission, and sold without compensating the creator.
In the developing world, weak IP regimes and unreliable enforceability of the rule of law have allowed the growth of counterfeit products to reach alarming rates: 2.5% of global trade is now thought to be in counterfeit products. While produced in lesser developed countries, 80% of these counterfeits infringe on the rights of EU and U.S. businesses. The EU is estimated to lose €83 billion and 790,000 jobs every year due to counterfeiting and piracy.
To make matters worse, these counterfeits are not just in consumer goods such as sports jerseys or sneakers. 10% of the global pharmaceutical trade is thought to be counterfeit. These “medicines” have been found in legitimate supply chains in a third of the world’s countries, jeopardizing life-saving treatments and resulting in serious health consequences, even death. This increased trade in counterfeit pharmaceuticals worsens an already costly and risky process to manufacture medicines. New medicines require research, countless trials, on average $2.8 billion in investments, and up to 12 years of time. Less than 10% of medicines in development make it through these trials. Strong IP rights incentivize commitment and collaboration to produce pioneering work. Because of this governments worldwide increasingly use tax incentives like the patent box to encourage innovation and economic growth.
Weak IP regimes in these developing countries, some of the world’s most populated, can exacerbate already disparate living conditions for women. Developing countries tend to have higher levels of female unemployment, higher infant mortality rates, and lower female education rates. Investments into these countries that can raise GDP per capita and improve the standard of living for all are limited when rampant rights abuses disincentivize major companies from entering the market. Protecting IP can change this – the country that protects IP rights the most is also the country with best entrepreneurial environment for women.
However, while these developed countries generally have stronger IP protections than developing countries, there is still room to grow in IP for women even in developed nations. According to the Women’s Institute for Policy Research, while women have quintupled their representation among patent holders since 1977, less than one in five patents in the United States have at least one woman inventor named. The study also found that women only make up 7.7 of primary inventors who hold patents. Based on this rate, women won’t reach parity in patenting until 2092.
This discrepancy between the genders is even more discouraging given the important role women inventors have played in history. Women are to thank for some of today’s most common-place items, such as the windshield wiper patented by Mary Anderson and frequency hopping technology patented by Hedy Lamarr, which laid the groundwork for Bluetooth and WiFi technology.
Developed countries are also no safe haven for the strong protection of intellectual property rights. The World Health Organization sponsored push for plain packaging is robbing companies of their trademark rights in developed countries such as Australia and the U.K. This has costly economic, security, and health consequences. Plain packaging has been linked to a rise in the illicit tobacco trade in Australia, funneling money into the black market, while subjecting consumers to unregulated, unsafe tobacco. If implemented in the U.S. to alcohol and sugary drinks, plain packaging could cost the beverage industry $300 billion, larger than the GDP of some countries.
According to different indexes which are important scorecards for how well countries around the world protect intellectual property rights among women, countries that do a better job of protecting property rights tend to have better measures of gender equality, including in areas such as access to land, access to credit, and equal inheritance rights. “Empowering women is a solution for poverty. A way to empower women is giving them property rights.” said Prof. Sary Levy-Carciente of Universidad Central de Venezuela.
This measure shows us that protecting intellectual property rights is a win-win for all societies. By protecting these rights, economic incentives exist to innovate and invest. This results in economic growth and prosperity. Protecting these rights also elevates the position of women in society to one of more equality with men, resulting in even more long term economic growth. This World IP Day, an international coalition of organizations celebrate the role of women in IP not only through celebrating past achievements, but also encouraging further growth and advancement.