26 April is World IP Day! This year's theme is 'Women and IP: Accelerating innovation and creativity', which provides an opportunity to talk about why it is important for women to be part of climate change innovation solutions, and to highlight a few of the women leading the way.
Climate change is affecting and will affect everyone — but not equally. The UN has found that women often face higher risks and greater burdens as a result of environmental change. It has stated that in low and low-middle income countries for example, agriculture tends to be the most important employment sector for women, and periods of drought and erratic weather mean failing crops and harder work to secure an income, with pressure on girls to leave education to help in the fields. Climate change can escalate social, political and economic tensions, and with that there may be a risk of conflict-related violence against women. The UN has also stated that in the face of environmental disasters, women are less likely to survive, more likely to be injured, and less able to access relief and assistance. Yet women were found to typically be the first responders in community responses to natural disasters; are often managers of common natural resources; and the European Journal of Political Economy has reported that increasing female representation in national parliaments leads to the adoption of more stringent policies on climate change.
These are all very good reasons for ensuring gender equality in the development and implementation of climate strategies, as recognised by the UN, whose Gender Action Plan was adopted at COP23 in 2017 and which aims to ensure that women and men are represented equally in all aspects of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.
Leading women in climate change innovation
In business, the contribution of female innovators is also being recognised: an article in Forbes in 2022 highlighted the work of a selection of female entrepreneurs whose business are based on innovations focussing on climate and sustainability. Examples of such innovators include Jennifer Holmgren, CEO of LanzaTech, who has created a process to convert industrial waste gases carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide into an alternative jet fuel; and Miranda Wang and Jeanny Yao, co-founders of Novoloop, who have developed a process to transform polyethylene into high grade thermoplastic polyurethane for commercial use.
Both LanzaTech and Novoloop have granted patents and pending patent applications directed to their technologies. Obtaining robust protection for innovations is an essential part of developing a business, with IP rights playing a critical role in encouraging innovation and investment: they provide innovators with a potential reward on the investment required to develop an idea, turn it into a viable solution to a problem and bring that solution to the marketplace. Once IP is protected, there is more incentive to commit to ventures, partnerships, and generally diffuse potentially world-changing technologies.
Novagraaf attorneys have considerable experience as IP consultants to companies receiving UK government grant funding managed by the Carbon Trust; and in identifying and protecting innovations in the green-tech space, with expertise in areas including biopesticides, carbon capture and storage, reduced water consumption solutions, wind turbine technology and creation of sustainable materials. Green technologies are often complex, requiring an understanding of different fields and our team includes attorneys with backgrounds including materials, engineering, electronics, chemistry and biology, who can work in multi-disciplinary teams to bring their combined understanding to the drafting of a patent application and its subsequent prosecution.
Dr Kate McNamara is a Senior Patent Attorney based in Novagraaf's Norwich offices.