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World IP Day, 2018: Celebrating Women in IP


Every year, the 26th of April is celebrated as the World IP Day, to promote the role of IP in encouraging innovation and creativity. Pursuant to this goal, WIPO marks the occasion each year, with a ‘novel’ theme. This year, the World IP day campaign “celebrates the brilliance, ingenuity, curiosity and courage of the women who are driving change in our world and shaping our common future.”  

Keeping very much with this theme, we are pleased to commemorate this year’s World IP Day, by bringing to our readers, a guest post by Justice (Retd.) Prabha Sridevan. Justice (Retd.) Sridevan needs no introduction – her work and writings (see hereherehere and here) have studded the archives of both our blog, as well the IP field in India. Her stint as a Judge of the Madras HC (2000-2010) as well as the Chairperson of the IPAB (2011-2013) resulted in a number of monumental developments, which we have documented here, herehere and here. Earlier this year, we also kickstarted our SpicyIP Interview Series, with an interview with her. Readers may access Justice (Retd.) Sridevan’s complete profile, here.

As we leave you with Justice Sridevan’s thoughts on how best to celebrate women in IP, we wish you a wonderful (read:original;novel) World IP Day!

Celebrating Women in IP

Justice (Retd.) Prabha Sridevan

This year’s World Intellectual Property Day campaign celebrates the brilliance, ingenuity, curiosity and courage of the women who are driving change in our world and shaping our future. And high time, too.

Virginia Woolf in her essay, ‘Shakespeare’s Sister’ writes, “To have lived a free life in London in the sixteenth century would have meant for a woman who was poet and playwright a nervous stress and dilemma which might well have killed her. Had she survived, whatever she had written would have been twisted and deformed, issuing from a strained and morbid imagination. And undoubtedly, I thought, looking at the shelf where there are no plays by women, her work would have gone unsigned. That refuge she would have sought certainly. It was the relic of the sense of chastity that dictated anonymity to women even so late as the nineteenth century. Currer Bell, George Eliot, George Sand, all the victims of inner strife as their writings prove, sought ineffectively to veil themselves by using the name of a man.” 

The laws that we have, are constructed on a male understanding of everything – the Gospel according to the Man, you might say. That has been accepted as the universal view, i.e. the status quo.  So, the phrase “women IP owners” is understood as “IP owners who are women” and not “women who are IP owners”. The truth of their being a woman and the reality of a woman, must permeate the ownership and exercise of rights, to make this day meaningful.

While men have enjoyed and understood ownership and property for a very long time, women’s right to property has a more recent genesis.The degree of representation of women or for that matter of any non-majoritarian group in corporate, state and other social structures will determine how aspects like ownership, production and management of intellectual property rights play out in reality. How do you create a legal structure which is not structured on what the man thinks?

The historical fact that women came to understand property later than man might have some effect, if today the IP laws are written from a gendered perspective. Since men have been owners and proprietors for much longer, they have learnt how to maximize profit and have a better understanding of how to exclude. If women wrote the law will they adopt a different lexicon and thus draft, understand and construe the law differently or would women be content with maintaining the status quo?

Justice Sotomayor of the U.S. Supreme Court said that her gender and ethnicity will impact her judging process. I am sure gender and ethnicity will impact creativity and innovation and entrepreneurship too. Women need not be apologetic about it and try to be defacto male, they can rightfully be women de jure. The impact of ethnicity and culture on creativity is evident in G.I. and Traditional Knowledge. When we as members of the IP think tank drafted the policy, we felt that there may be a gender link in the creation of many products which have a G.I. The ownership of these two kinds of I.Ps, vests with a community and not an individual. I am not suggesting that women are by nature more altruistic, but their understanding of property rights may be different and less ego-centric.

I read recently, a provocative article asking why more men have patents in their name than women. Needless to say, it elicited rebuttals. But the default image of an IP owner is undoubtedly that of a man. With the gender shift, how will advertisements change? Will there be a change in the relationship between copyright and pornographic material when we have more women who are IP owners? I thought only a woman could have invented and patented the Miracle Mop. Arguable? Yes, of course it is arguable! I intend readers to first guffaw, snort and post ridiculing to vitriolic comments after reading this. Then I hope they will pause, read and think again. I will be happy if that happens with 2 out of 100 readers. Remember what I wrote about Shakespeare’s sister. In India, both Meera and Akkamaha devi wrote exquisite poems, creators par excellence and they broke the mould in which women were traditionally fitted.

Professor Tim Hunt resigned from UCL after he made some chauvinistic comments about women in labs. But remember it was a woman in a lab, who had taken THE crucial picture of a DNA fibre in 1952: Rosalind Franklin. In ‘The Gene,’ Siddharta Mukherjee writes, “It was the most perfect image she had ever seen. She had labelled it “Photograph 51” Wilkins walked over to the next room, pulled the crucial photograph out of a drawer and showed it to Watson. (Franklin)….had no knowledge that Wilkins had just revealed the most precious data to Wilkins”. Wilkins later wrote, “Perhaps I should have asked Rosalind’s permission and I didn’t.” In 1962, Watson, Crick and Wilkins won the Nobel Prize for their discovery. Franklin had died by then. If she had been alive may be the Nobel Committee would have included her too. In the Guardian article, ‘Sexism in science: did Watson and Crick really steal Rosalind Franklin’s data?’ Matthew Cobb writes, “Whether the (Nobel) committee would have been able to recognize Franklin’s contribution is another matter. As the Tim Hunt affair showed, sexist attitudes are ingrained in science, as in the rest of our culture.”

This, then, is the truth. So while dedicating a day for celebrating women Innovators, we must examine the truth, accept the skewedness and set it right by taking the Great Inventive Step so that our understanding, impact and working of IP and the benefit that flows from IP changes in a way that enables the women creators and innovators everywhere.

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Sreyoshi Guha

Sreyoshi is a law student at Symbiosis Law School, Pune. Her favourite thing about Intellectual Property Law is Copyrights. She can usually be found doing one of three things: dog-earing her favourite pages of her books, looking up a Zomato menu, or day-dreaming of the day she'll finally meet John Mayer. She doesn't have any notable achievements, except probably that one time when she encountered a crazy pigeon, and lived to tell the tale. Send her your thoughts at: [email protected]

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