Females and felines in intellectual property law

On this day 98 years ago the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919 was passed, officially deeming women to be “persons”. Previously, this omission disqualified women from entering the professions, including law. [Kats have always been allowed]. This anniversary provides an opportunity for some feminist feline musing and a timely introduction to the World IP Women (WIPW) global network. 

The gender conversation is by no means new to IPKat - see AmeriKat's post here. But, as Mary Beard stated in her Manifesto: Women & Power, there remain both reasons to be angry as well as reasons to celebrate. For example, here you can watch Baroness Hale talking of her achievements and the role of women in the legal profession. However, whilst gender equality is slowly improving, it continues to be a “grave injustice”, as so described by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie in her seminal essay, We Should All Be Feminists.
Reading gender disparity statistics like... 

Wangari Maathai
famously stated that: “The higher you go, the fewer women there are,” and the legal profession is no exception. According to the UK Solicitors Regulation Authority, women make up just 33% of partners in small or medium sized law firms, and larger firms have even fewer, with 27% female partners. In the UK legal profession, the gender pay gap is estimated at 30%, compared with a UK-wide average of 19%.

Intellectual property law is, sadly, recognised as particularly poor in gender diversity. In an interview with Inside Council, Felicia Boyd (Partner and firm-wide co-chair of the Intellectual Property group at Barnes & Thornburg) suggested that one reason for fewer women in IP, was that less women pursed degrees in science and technical fields. Whilst this rather academic Kat does not doubt that education is the answer to almost everything, it is worth noting that women far outnumber men in 112 of 180 degree subjects. For example, this year 135,940 (18 year old) women were placed for an undergraduate degree, compared to 105,150 (18 year old) men.

Adichie suggested that whilst things have started to improve, due to policy and law, what matters even more is our attitude, our mind set. Building on this, Shirley Chisholm maintained “the law cannot do it for us. We must do it for ourselves. Women in this country [everywhere] must be revolutionaries.”

In the spirit of this day of celebrating the achievements in the progression towards gender equality, whilst also recognising that there is still some way to go, this Kat wanted to share with you her recent gender agenda. She has created a free global network for women working in intellectual property law; World IP Women (WIPW).

The key objectives of WIPW are to:

(1) Increase the visibility of women who work in IP by creating and publishing an open-access directory of women working in IP. The database will enable people to search by name, location, or field of expertise.

(2) To promote gender equality and grow the global network of women who work in IP by connecting women with their local IP communities, and connecting those communities in a global network.

LJ Sumption once cautiously suggested that we not rush into gender equality, a statement not well received and, frankly, ignored. This Kat submits that in order to achieve gender equality, we do not need time, we need conviction. Gathering together, supporting each other and making Women in IP more visible will no doubt encourage more women to join the IP community.

So, I invite any fellow female felines to become a member of WIPW by simply filling in the information you want to appear on the directory, and joining the community group on Linkedin.

Wishing you all a joyful winter break! 

photo: cuatrok77
Females and felines in intellectual property law Females and felines in intellectual property law Reviewed by Hayleigh Bosher on Saturday, December 23, 2017 Rating: 5


  1. It is great to hear about all the activities aimed at continued reduction in discrimination within the middle classes. Can't have middle class women having less access to the professions than middle class men.

  2. "it is worth noting that women far outnumber men in 112 of 180 degree subjects"

    Do you realise what you have just said? The same statement said about men would be deemed extremely discriminatory. I know of no IP firm that discriminates against women in recruitment today. I know several, including pubic companies, who discriminate against men. Shall I name them, or are you equal enough to identify them yourself and come to the same conclusions? But then, that appears to be a deliberate goal to balance the numbers. Discrimination, I believe it is called. Discrimination based on ignorance, but that is not a justification.

  3. Posted by Annsley Merelle Ward : female

    http://ipkitten.blogspot.co.uk/2016/10/introducing-our-new-internkats.html : all female

    https://wipw.org/find-your-local-women-in-ip-community/ female only
    https://wipw.org/ female only

    etc etc.

    Sisters are certainly doing it for themselves, and only themselves. It is disappointing that so many females believe discrimination is the only way they can succeed in an IP career, and unfortunate for those that are capable of succeeding on merit, because they shall inevitably be considered inferior to their male counterparts who succeed based on their professional competencies. Still, what is it meant to 'succeed' at this moment in time? Personal success at the expense of the profession whose standards are deteriorating, and the clients whose livelihoods will be damaged.

    I have had a small wager with my partner that this comment will be blocked by the female censor. He is confident of success, perhaps overly so.

  4. Often, it appears, that a Politically Correct term has a well-meaning intention, but then goes about things in a manner that is both inept and strikes directly against the meaning of the stated intention.

    I find "gender equality" to fit this "class" of political correctness.

    Evaluations, based on merit without regard to gender is, I believe, the desired end state.

    But applying gender-based means in order to arrive at some "equal numbers" type of metric is engaging in the very sort of "with regard" to gender that is an identified fault.

    As with race and other factors, I think that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. speech some 54 years ago dreams of reaching - or having - an end WITHOUT the engaging in means that carry the very fault that is aimed to be removed.

    It is with no small sense of irony that attempts to diminish gender-based regards perpetuate the very thing (albeit with roles reversed). It is one of the greatest failings of the "left" in pursuit of an otherwise noble and valuable aim.

    I dream that a realization of obtaining an end without engaging in an identified onerous means is, and should, and needs to be part of the ends obtained.

  5. I have lost my wager, but I am pleased to have done so, even though I shall have to arrange the weekly ironing for the housekeeper. It is not so bad being an IP professional, male or female. Yes?

    Having read the Lord Sumption article, he claims to have been misrepresented, and that seems to be so. Despite this, the IPKAT has chosen to further misrepresent his views. I can't help but feel that fake news is destroying our society, more so from within.


  6. When I was a trainee Patent Attorney in the 1990's, I estimate that about 50% of the attendees at the CIPA lectures held in London were female, ditto the subsequent QMW course that I attended. In my final employment prior to retirement with a London firm, nearly half the professional staff, and a good proportion of the partners, were female, despite periodic losses due to pregnancy. A plus point about the profession is that the nature of the job and the availability of telephone/video conferencing makes it possible to work from home for most of the time, as was done by at least one of the female partners when bringing up her young children, but also male attorneys who appreciated the break from daily commuting.

  7. The 19% wage gap figure is somewhat misleading and mostly results from the fact that many more women work part-time, rather than full-time. Comparing only full-time workers the actual wage gap is than 10%. Whilst comparing only part-time work women actually out earn men by more than 5%. Further, women in their 20's currently earn more than men of the same age. This is a good indication of both how things are improving and where the problem lies.

    When having children women in their 30s are much more likely than men to drop to part-time working or take parental leave. In fact, in the UK, it wasn't even possible for men to take extended paternity leave until two or three years ago. This meant that if a family wanted one parent to take extended parental leave it had to be the mother. The introduction of shared parental leave, allowing fathers to take the leave rather than the mother, will likely be the biggest step to equality in decades. Albeit this change will be slow until it becomes more socially acceptable for a father to take all or most of the parental leave. For example, if you go to a baby or toddler group it is extremely rare for any fathers to be attending and even more rare that they are run by a male. Therefore, in my opinion, the biggest step to gender equality in the workplace (both in status and pay) would be a drive to persuade fathers to share parental leave more evenly and to work part-time or flexibly after having children in much the same way that mothers have done for decades.

    It must also be accepted that this change will take time and will not immediately solve any gender disparity for people in senior positions, as those people entered the workplace 10, 20, or 30 years ago when the genders were much less equal.

  8. About 25 years ago I did mention to a US associate that I knew more Icelandic female patent attorneys than US ones: in the letterhead of the one Icelandic firm we dealt with, 3 out of the 7 partners were female, whereas up to then I had never then seen a single female listed on the letterheads of any of the firms we dealt with (I still hadn't by the time I retired!).

    He reflected and said that he had found that, although females often did start training, they generally shifted to other fields such as trade mark work as they tended to have difficulties with the Engineering Drawing paper that then had to be passed to qualify. It's not a phenomenon I had observed in the UK, even in the days when the old CIPA "Inters" papers included a specific requirement for candidates to demonstate their understanding of engineering drawings by drawing a sectional view from plan and elevation views.

  9. No comments from women. Why not? Are the men not letting them have their say, or are they busy working behind the scenes discriminating against men in the profession to increase numbers?

    Write a disgraceful blog and then blof off instead of responding to the comments. Female bravery at its best?

  10. Speaking from afar, I am concerned that the service provision from the national UK service providers is not subject to the same stringent qualification requirements as those in other European countries. Qualification, employment status and responsibilities that serve the needs of my clients must be assigned to attorneys based on knowledge and experience. Equality of professional status must be earned irrespective of gender and I am shocked to learn that so-called positive discrimination has resulted in such large-scale recruitment of under-qualified, under-experienced, professional representatives.

    I must serve the needs of my clients so ask if non-UK attorneys can handle patent matters in the UK? European patent attorneys, or members of the German profession having a high representation abroad? This problem will diminish I hope now that this breakaway from Europe has occurred and the United Kingdom becomes a minor relevance in our profession.

  11. When I started my IP career over 10 years ago, a stereotypical UK patent attorney was: white, middle-class, male, Oxford / Cambridge educated, heterosexual, able bodied, married, one or more children.

    At interview, being female was not an issue. However, I was asked “why didn’t you go to Oxford or Cambridge?” I was also asked why I wasn’t married – by an employer that I found pleasingly open minded with regards diversity, flexible working, etc.

    Is the above stereotype still true today? I don't know. Recruitment agent surveys are limited to those people who choose to participate. A complete analysis of the UK profession by the Chartered Institute of Patent Attorneys or IPReg would provide a clearer picture.

    I doubt many (any?) female patent attorneys want to be the subject of positive discrimination. Instead I believe that, like me, they want to be RECOGNISED and REWARDED for their skills and talents, to the SAME extent and expectations as their male colleagues are, and to be shown and offered the SAME opportunities for DEVELOPMENT.

    Here are some experiences:
    - support staff prioritizing male fee earner work over a female fee earner work, affecting performance bonuses.
    - management – light heartedly being asked whether they were attending a networking event as the 'token female'
    - clients – being called in one half hour meeting: 'honey', 'love', 'sweetheart', ‘girl’, 'duck' and 'babe'? Are these suitable terms for a professional advisor? The fee earner’s peer understood her frustration, and unfortunately found it amusing.
    - meetings – women being given housekeeping roles e.g. minute taking, and if they challenge are answered ‘but you’re so much better at it’. Women making a suggestion, have it dismissed, yet accepted when a different colleague suggests the same.
    - colleagues - being told ‘you’re a darling, am I allowed to call you that?’ (much easier to say ‘that was great, thank you’).
    - descriptions of behaviour, you’ve heard it before - women being ‘stubborn, aggressive’, men being ‘focussed, assertive’

    Replace the word ‘female’ with some of the other non-stereotypical parameters, and likely those people have similar experiences. Likewise I see men being told ‘oh you can’t do that, you’re a disorganized man’, or ‘don’t be soft’ when experiencing difficulties or frustrations that are more accepted when experienced by a woman, or being told that ‘while you are on paternity leave, you’ll be able to do tasks X,Y,Z’ and then being shocked when the man said ‘I will be available for extreme emergencies only, you manage fine when women are on maternity leave, my paternity leave is no different’.

    We are ALL responsible for RECOGNIZING, REWARDING, PROMOTING and SUPPORTING all colleagues whatever their profile: gender, skin tone, sexual preference, family scenario, social class, part/full time, permanent/temporary, university prestige, work role, ambitions etc. There has been progress in the last 50 years. However, at our current rate, we won’t be close to equality in the next 50 years. If we all (including females and minorities, we are part of the problem) take a look at ourselves and ask ‘if someone treated my friend / family like this would I find it appropriate or acceptable?’, we will start to adjust our behaviour in a useful direction. A few years ago, I changed my ways and am delighted by the results: to give everyone the best chance of being heard, when faced with a comment or question from a colleague, I think “if favourite colleague X had said that, how would I respond?”, and then I give that same response whoever the comment/suggestion came from.

    I hope that, in my lifetime, we will look back at topics such as this with the same mindset that we do today when realizing that it was only in 1928 that women finally achieved the same voting rights as men.

    I’m leaving you with a question: how are YOU / WE going to improve in giving ALL of our colleagues / contacts fair support, recognition and reward for their skills and talents?

  12. To Anon of 7 Jan, I am the original "Anon" commentator. I appreciate all you say. It is unfortunate that I will never be able to answer your question because I will never be an accepted member of the IP club. Sure, if there are no other willing candidates, I can get work, but there is a glass ceiling stopping me even getting to those interviews where they ask why you didn't go to Oxford or Cambridge.

    I am, on the whole, silent in my comments on the diversity issues as my voice would not hold sway; more likely it will result in accusation of having a chip on one's shoulder. I generally just plod on taking any opportunity that comes my way, producing work of the highest standards, and I am held in high-regard for my professional attributes by my peers - once they have had the opportunity to work with me. That does not assist with my salary and position being significantly lower than my peers, both male and female, since entering the profession. I do not make excuses as to why this is the case.

    The recent diversity push is very female-oriented and misses out on efforts to encourage full inclusion. Within the IP profession, women, and many from the LGBT community, for example, have traditional middle class upbringings: higher-paid professional parents, high proportion of private school attendance; and of course, Oxbridge listed on their CV's. High quality candidates, yes. Diverse, no. And for what reason do you think professional CV's on company websites all list the University attended? Status? Member of the right club?

    People of colour? I suspect out of this minority within the profession, a higher proportion will be from a more privileged background than those people 'not of colour'. i.e. an extra hurdle.

    It is only the past week that I have felt pleased I did not attend Oxford or Cambridge, as I would have been yet another 'stain' amongst the elite. I would have had to gain entry on merit too (my grades themselves sufficient to meet high requirements had I applied), my parents not being invited to dinner-parties with the tutors. The family phone was rarely allowed to be used for making such long-distance calls, unlike Toby Young's. Stain and/or Chippy? Some choice.

    The profession cannot change, because people do not. Like attracts like.

  13. A 'most read' post that has elicited a few comments but no discussion. No discussion = no problems?

  14. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.


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