World Intellectual Property Day is today, April 26. Every year, April 26 is an important date to highlight the value of protecting innovation and creativity through strong intellectual property (IP) rights – rights the State Department’s Office of Intellectual Property Enforcement defends every day.
At the Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs, we advocate against unfair trade practices and push for a level playing field for U.S. businesses, workers, goods, and services. Success is protecting innovators around the world, regardless of race, social standing, or gender.
The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) Secretariat in Geneva, Switzerland chooses a theme that allows us to view intellectual property through a different lens. The event takes place every April 26, the same date on which the United Nations Convention establishing WIPO entered into force in 1970. The United States is a member of WIPO, and we also promote World IP Day across all our U.S. Missions around the world.
This year’s theme is “Women and IP: Accelerating Innovation and Creativity.”
Around the world, our embassies will host roundtables, panel discussions, events, lectures, forums with women innovators, debates on local TV and radio, and many other events highlighting the importance of intellectual property rights.
WIPO leaders chose this year’s theme to celebrate the “can do” attitude of women innovators, creators, and entrepreneurs around the world and their ground-breaking work. We’re also highlighting the role of IP rights in securing the new technologies, materials, and products patented by women.
Protecting intellectual property through patents, trademarks or copyrights around the world incentivizes research and development and leads to job growth. All innovations require a robust intellectual property environment to flourish, be it strong legislative frameworks, enforcement actions and public education.
The bottom line, for an economy to progress, innovators need to have their creations protected. To do so, laws that ensure IP rights must be established and followed. Due process, enforcement, active regulators, and a functioning judiciary are the lifeblood for protection of intellectual property assets and investments.
Launching a new brand or product often requires years of investment, market research, testing, and trial and error. Effective protection and enforcement of intellectual property rights supports that creative process by increasing the creators’ confidence that their innovations will be protected from theft.
It allows inventors to earn income from their inventions and compete on equal footing. It also provides a framework where inventors can legally share information and generate more solutions to global and local problems
Without strong IP protection, counterfeit and pirated goods siphon compensation away from legitimate vendors and manufacturers — which devalues the hard work and creativity of innovators and creators. For instance, take Kevlar. Created by an American chemist named Stephanie Kwolek, Kevlar is a polymer material that’s five times stronger than steel. It is used in products like police vests and bicycle tires. Kevlar’s lifesaving design and its creator’s authorship are protected by IP rights.
Patents safeguard the technology that developed Kevlar. Trademarks differentiate it from like products, protecting Ms. Kwolek’s reputation. Copyright protection provides security for those that market the brand. All this allows a reputable vendor like Ms. Kwolek to market a high-quality product to demanding customers. Everyone benefits, at all stages of the value chain.
While Ms. Kwolek provides an excellent example of a woman who achieved great success through the patent system, the gender gap in IP is glaring. Statistics show that less than one fifth of inventors named in international patent applications were women – only 16.5 percent to be precise.
While women are filing more patents than ever before, female entrepreneurs often lack the necessary mentorship, networks, and training to flourish. For example, a significant share of women in STEM fields leave the workforce due to implicit biases in promotion processes, or a lack of support. For women who do end up patenting their inventions, they often face difficulties raising money for their products.
Despite these hurdles, there is progress. For instance, the share of first-time female patent holders is increasing, signaling that more women are entering and continuing to be a key part of the patent system. By highlighting the role women’s IP has played in our society, we encourage more women and girls to take advantage of IP protections for their creativity and innovations.
To support women’s full participation in the IP workforce, as key drivers of innovation, the onus is on policymakers to create an economic and social environment that encourages female entrepreneurship. We must focus on strengthening our protection and enforcement of intellectual property rights.
World IP Day activities also support the Department of State’s economic prosperity goals. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office estimated that IP directly and indirectly supports over 63 million U.S. jobs and 41 percent of U.S. gross domestic product.
World IP Day events highlight the importance of strong, functional IP systems in advancing economic growth and improving everyone’s welfare. When countries protect the ideas of innovators and creators, they support livelihoods and economic growth.
Strong IP rights protect innovation and creativity while keeping us all safe and inspired. We hope you, too, will celebrate the theme of Women and IP: Accelerating Innovation and Creativity on this World IP Day.
About the Author: Tarek Fahmy serves as Director of the Office of Intellectual Property Enforcement.