On May 5th, 2023, National Law University Delhi, Indian Intellectual Property Office, and UK Intellectual Property Office jointly organised an event based on this year’s World IP Day theme ‘Women and IP: Accelerating Innovation and Creativity’ to mark World IP Day 2023 and India’s G20 initiatives. The main objective of the event was to provide a platform for discussion and exchange of ideas on the role of IP in women’s empowerment and how IP has supported their growth as inventors, creators, and entrepreneurs.
The program began with a high tea and welcome session at 3:15 pm. The inaugural session commenced at 3:45 pm with an introduction by Ms Pragya Chaturvedi, IP Attaché, British High Commission, and welcome remarks by Mr. Huw Watkins, Head of Asia Policy, UK Intellectual Property Office. Dr. Sarah Whitehead, Interim Director of International Policy, UK Intellectual Property Office, and Dr. Usha Rao, Assistant Controller, Intellectual Property Office India, gave special addresses during the session.
The first panel discussion titled ‘Accelerating Innovation and Creativity: The Role of IP in Women Empowerment’ began at 4:15 pm and was moderated by Ms. Jayashree Watal, Visiting Professor, NLU Delhi. The panel featured distinguished speakers Ms. Latha Nair, Partner, K&S Partners, Ms. Sunita Sreedharan, CEO, SKS Law Associates, Ms Gauri Kumar, India and South Asia Consultant, INTA, Dr. Namita Gupta, Senior Manager, FITT, IIT Delhi, and Dr Yogesh Pai, Associate Professor, NLU Delhi. The discussion was started by Mrs Latha Nair, who highlighted various aspects related to the topic. She focussed on how there is a lack of maximisation of benefits for GI which directly affects women and this is because of gaps in law related to GI. In her opinion, GI goods have the unique property that their supply is less and demand is more, therefore they are classified as premium products. Ideally, the increase in premium in GI should have pumped back high returns to the community. However, since law does not enable the quality checking of GI, there have been less returns from GI products and subsequently it has affected the position of women in the community.
Ms. Sunita further contributed to the panel discussion and spoke about how she coaches women inventors and patents practice. She stated that there are two ways to look at how IP enables women- through patents and through soft rights like trademark and copyright. She focussed on the need for handholding women through the intricacies of filing for a patent. She highlighted how private funding and networking becomes more difficult for women as they need a more nuanced understanding of how markets work. Additionally, she highlighted the realities of less funding for women in comparison with men as there is a common notion that it is more difficult for women to commercialise it. Therefore, she suggested that a common template for complex legal documents like NDA should be made available as a lot of money is spent on legal assistance otherwise.
Ms. Namita Gupta highlighted the struggle of women in various aspects of IP rights. She stated that there is less female to male ratio in IP patents and therefore, the law should enable the networking of women in business places. She highlighted the contribution of FITT which facilitates the collaboration of women with industry and helps them in negotiation and funding. She stated that women specific programs in various institutes help in creating business plans for women by training them for interactions with angel investors. She highlighted that there should be specific programs which focus on women in STEM and technical fields so that IP rights are made more accessible to them.
Ms. Gauri Kumar further contributed to the panel discussion by focussing on the need for handholding of women in enabling the ecosystem of IP for them. She highlighted how specific programs of INTA tries to investigate reasons for underrepresentation of women in IP. The organisation’s ongoing research report and accompanying toolkit focuses on the best practices of organisation and practical tips on how multifaceted strategies can help and foster development amongst women. She highlighted the findings of a gender gap report which reflects the deteriorating realities of women in leadership roles. Further, she stated that statistically, India is doing much better than Europe and the U.S. in terms of the number of women in senior leadership roles. She commented that we can improve the position of women by creating an inclusive workforce by creating creches, washrooms for women, etc which can solve the issue of women being underrepresented in IP senior roles.
The concluding speaker for the first panel discussion was Mr. Yogesh Pai who talked in detail about the role of IP in empowering women. He highlighted that 40-50% of the startups are led by women. He also quoted numerous statistics which helped in understanding the ground realities of representation of women in IP. Further, he educated the audience about the various waves of feminism and talked about the gender equality paradox in STEM which highlighted that Finland which is known for gender equality had only 25% women opted to study STEM even though women scored the highest in those subjects earlier. He highlighted how the statistics of women opting for STEM are higher in India than in Scandinavian countries. He commented that 2007 onward, IP has been a positive tool for the benefit of women and how academic research should focus more on this area. The panel concluded with various comments from the audience and the panellists about the role of women in IP.
The second panel discussion titled ‘IP Journeys of Women inventors, creators and entrepreneurs’ started at 5:15 pm and was moderated by Dr Malathi Lakshmikumaran, ED and Practice Head, Lakshmikumaran & Sridharan Attorneys, New Delhi. The panel featured inspiring women inventors, creators, and entrepreneurs, including Dr Shubra Chakraborty, Director, National Institute of Plant Genome Research, Prof. Archana Chugh, Kusuma School of Biological Sciences, IIT Delhi, Prof. Suma Athreye, School of Public Policy, IIT Delhi, and Dr. Satya Dash, Founding CEO BITS BioCyTiH Foundation. They shared how they leveraged IP to support their journey and discussed ways to include more women within the IP system to accelerate innovation, creativity, and business growth.
Dr. Shubhra, a biologist from Kolkata who has numerous patents to her name highlighted the issue of attaching traditional roles and responsibilities with women as one of the chief factors that poses a hindrance for women furthering their potential in STEM. She also spoke about the issue of accessibility for higher education in STEM for women and reiterated the immense importance attached with hand holding women through the complex process of patenting and other soft rights.
Further, Dr. Archana who is a scientist and patent agent with an experience in working in an IP firm spoke about how women in IP can be used to accelerate business. She spoke about her own experience as a women when she was unaware of the importance of patents and as a result suffered with the duplication of her idea which is a common reality in this age. Ms. Suma, an economist from IIT Delhi spoke about how IP does not protect academia as it is a creative profession . She also highlighted that the research of women in STEM is a recent phenomenon and women are underrepresented in STEM as they face double masculinity as most of the firms and academic institutions are set up by men and handled by men. Therefore there is an inherent issue of reconciling with identity which poses hindrance in the position of women in IP. The discussion concluded with the comments from Satya dash who highlighted the lack of access of women in IP due to structural barriers.
The program concluded with a dinner keynote from 7:00 pm to 7:30 pm. Ms Christina Scott CMG, British Deputy High Commissioner to India, delivered introductory remarks, followed by the Guest of Honour and Keynote Address by Hon’ble Justice Prathiba M Singh, Judge, Delhi High Court, on Women in IP Bar and Bench. The program ended with concluding remarks by Special Guest, Prof. (Dr) Harpreet Kaur, Registrar, NLU Delhi. The event provided valuable insights on the role of IP in women’s empowerment and how it can help accelerate innovation, creativity, and business growth.