IP and the sustainability challenge - unleash the superpower!

IP and the sustainability challenge - unleash the superpower!

A race we can win…

These are the now iconic words of United Nation’s Secretary-General António Guterres as he reflected on the rapid rise of technological solutions to help reduce net emissions and create a cleaner world. At the core of the ‘race’ he refers to is the existential fact that our world will always need power. It’s technology that will undoubtedly be part of the solution to the sustainability challenges that we face.

Solutions and change are founded on new ideas. This is where IP comes in: empowering and promoting technology and innovation. IP is, and will be, a crucial tool that many businesses use in shaping their strategies for solutions to the sustainability challenge. Here we ask is Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) the key to harnessing the power of IP in this race?
The synergy between environmental issues and DEI is something that entrepreneur Valentina Milanova recognises, and is also passionate about for her business. Valentina is a female entrepreneur, being both founder and CEO of Daye, a B-Corp company. 

We introduce sustainability into the heart of our business... We can make an immediate impact. But we also work to ensure our business is sustainable not just in the short term but in the long term.

Valentina recognizes the key importance of a broader take on sustainability, one that encompasses DEI, and works hard to promote bridging the gender health gap: Sustainability to us doesn’t just mean the health and happiness of the planet. It means the wellbeing of the company and everyone who’s part of it.

So for companies such a Daye, where sustainability is a key value, we see a fundamental emphasis on DEI. Could the synergy between ESG and DEI be a key to igniting IP’s contribution to carbon solutions.
Ben Buchanan, Deputy Director of Patents at the UK Intellectual Property Office (IPO), personal opinion is that we can. The UK IPO have seen a phenomenal rise in IP protection for green technologies. Indeed, over the last 20 years or so globally, patenting and green technologies have grown by 500%. That's more than fossil fuel technologies, and that's in fact more than all technologies as percentage growth.
IP is certainly playing its role. But for Ben, an untapped variable for IP and the sustainability challenge, is How women will save the world!

To better understand this belief, let’s back track, and start with IP’s 'gender divide'. Ben refers
to the 'leaky pipeline', as explained in the UK IPO’s 2019 study, Gender profiles in worldwide patenting. The leaky pipeline is a phenomenon whereby as they progress through education and indeed careers, women are statistically lower represented than men. So despite starting 'equal', in STEM and engineering professions as a whole, women are significantly underrepresented.
The evolving picture is not all bleak. Ben tells us 'If you look back over the last 100 years at the number of women inventors on patents, you can see that there's been a significant increase from 2% a hundred years ago through to nearer 14 percent today.' But the numbers are still stark. 20 years ago, only 13% of patents had a woman named as an inventor either alone or in a mixed team. Today, the figure is still only 31%.
Ben goes on to say: 'There is so much potential in plugging that leaky pipeline – and certainly, it could have a dramatic influence for the sustainability challenge.'
I believe we can go further. The role of women in IP is not just part of the solution. It is essential to the solution. After all, what use is sustainability if it’s not sustainable, and for that, we need equity for women as part of the journey. Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) cannot be effective when not underpinned by DEI. ESG and DEI are are two sides of a coin, and as we have seen, have an untapped synergy in the waiting when it comes to climate challenges we are facing.
So, to final thoughts: how can we start to unleash that untapped power? As Ben puts it 'If we can fix the leaky pipeline and get more women into STEM and engineering careers, then we can reap the benefits of their innovation and their contribution in sustainability.'
One of the most impactful approaches is to maximize and promote the positive influence of our existing role models in this field - like Valentina. On some key initiatives: systemic change starts at the beginning.

  • STEM outreach projects, irrespective of gender.

  • Challenge and input into learning resources: root out those stock images of inventors.

  • Set up and supporting mentoring and sponsorship schemes for women.

  • Show case and celebrate examples of women inventors.

  • Blind reviews of invention disclosures.

  • Fair women representation on patent and promotion committees.

  • Proactive encouragement of at least mixed inventor teams.

  • Events, conferences and networks to promote women innovators and inventors.

  • IP Inclusive’ s Careers in Ideas, ADAPT, and GlobalWIIN are great examples. 

  • Create an environment, and language, to encourage women to share their innovative ideas.

  • And let’ not forget the bigger picture –management buy in and example leading.

In summary, as Ben says: 'If you look at the contribution women can make in innovation and we can improve it correspondingly, the contribution to sustainable technologies where women are underrepresented in terms of mentorship at the moment, can make a big difference. We do those two things together. We really might be able to save the world.

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