How Five UChicago Innovators Are Fighting the IP Gender Gap

World Intellectual Property Day is celebrated each year on April 26th. (Image credit: WIPO)

It is estimated that only 16.2% of inventors named in international patent applications were women in 2022, according to data from the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO).

In an analysis of international patent applications between 1999 and 2020, WIPO reports that women were involved in only 23% of all applications – representing just 13% of all inventors listed. Based on these trends, WIPO estimates gender parity will be achieved by an estimated target year of 2061.

In an effort to remedy this gender gap, World IP Day 2023 is focused on women innovators and aims to specifically highlight the need to encourage more women to “use the IP system to protect and add value to their work.”

“I think it is important to protect one’s intellectual property through IP filing,” said Anindita Basu, assistant professor, who with her colleague, Mary Hammes, associate professor of medicine, and student, Andres Moya-Rodreguez, share a recently-granted patent for a novel microfluidic device.

“I think under-represented minorities, including women, can use any protection they can get to overcome all kinds of systemic and deeply-entrenched biases that exist in society and academia and succeed professionally, and that IP protection is one such protection we can seek out for ourselves,” Basu added.

Disclosing and protecting IP also is vital to ensuring breakthrough research and discoveries are brought to market, as A.N. Pritzker Distinguished Service Professor of Radiology Maryellen Giger knows well.

“Innovation and translation are both very important in academic research in order to benefit society as well as provide for the ‘next steps,’ which will yield further innovation.”

– Maryellen Giger

Giger has developed a patent-pending technique using deep learning, a form of artificial intelligence, to better assess hypoxic-ischemic brain injury in survivors of cardiac arrest. She also is a cofounder of Quantitative Insights, which started through the 2010 New Venture Challenge. The company produced QuantX, which in 2017 became the first FDA-cleared machine-learning-driven system to aid in cancer diagnosis (CADx). In 2019, it was named one of TIME magazine’s inventions of the year and was bought by Qlarity Imaging.

“Filing IP is relatively simple – doing something with it is the hard part,” added Dominique Missiakas, professor of microbiology and cofounder of a biotech startup, Immunartes. “Do I plan to make a lot of money? I certainly don’t count on it. I might be incredibly disappointed,” she said. “Do I enjoy the journey? Very much so and I would do it again.”

Immunartes is developing vaccines and therapeutics against Staphylococcus aureus and received investment from the George Shultz Innovation Fund in 2017. The company also has been awarded grants from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Policies and Funding

Female entrepreneurs receive significantly less funding than their male counterparts. According to data from Pitchbook, only 1.9% of all venture capital in 2022 was directed toward startups founded by women.

“Sound-bites and lip service are not going to bring more women innovators into the system. Real policies and targeted funding opportunities are,” said chemistry professor Yamuna Krishnan, who has originated multiple patents and is the youngest woman in history to win India’s highest scientific recognition.

“It’s easy to tell women to use the IP system, but they will do so when the rest of the community does not actively muscle them out of entrepreneurial space,” Krishnan added. “If you want more women entrepreneurs and women-led businesses don’t tell women to work harder, because that’s not the problem. Make it profitable for the men-who-decide to support women entrepreneurs. Then you will see women entrepreneurs.”

A female founder herself, Krishnan spun out Esya Labs to tackle a huge problem: early detection of neurodegenerative diseases and pre-selecting the right treatment for the patient in a personalized manner. The company is currently working on drug discovery partnerships with some of the world’s top pharma companies, including Novartis

The founder of a personalized community referral platform to support whole-person care, called NowPow, Stacy Lindau, MD, MA ’02, Catherine Lindsay Dobson Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology echoed Krishnan’s calls to action.

“The trajectory of humankind is at an unprecedented inflection point – we can go up or we can go down. Growth, progress, and hope depend on the full participation of women and all people with executable ideas that make the world a healthier, safer, and more peaceful place,” Lindau said.

“For women to use the IP or any other system to protect and add value to our work, we must first be treated as nothing less than complete human beings with full domain and agency over our bodies and brains.”

– Stacy Lindau

“IP-asserting organizations and institutions must invest in proactive trustworthiness to ensure against exploitation and disrespect of women,” Lindau said. “Such investments look like spearheading action to intervene on massive underinvestment in women-led startups, advocating for equitable education of girls and women, adequate parental leave policies and reproductive rights, and promoting entrepreneurial environments where women are treated with nothing less than civility and respect.”

Derived from the phrase “knowledge is power,” NowPow in 2021 was acquired by Unite Us, a leading technology company connecting health and social care services.

Looking forward to the next few years, aside from taking care of her patients at UChicago Medicine and helping ensure the success of Unite Us, Lindau is excited about the Bionic Breast Project – an interdisciplinary research program applying bionic technologies to restore post-mastectomy breast function.

To further support this project and its potential to help millions of women around the world, Lindau made the decision to redirect 100% of her personal share of proceeds that the university receives when a faculty founder spins out a company that is eventually sold.

// World Intellectual Property Day is an opportunity to learn about the role that intellectual property (IP) rights play in encouraging innovation and creativity.

World IP Day 2023 – Women and IP: Accelerating innovation and creativity – celebrates the work of trailblazing women around the world and raises awareness about why it is so important to encourage more women to participate in the IP system. Learn more:

Article by Melissa Fassbender, senior associate director of external relations and science communications at the Polsky Center. Melissa is a former journalist and has held the role of editor at various global publications in the drug development, clinical trials, and design engineering space. Reach Melissa via email or on Twitter at @melfass.


This site uses cookies and other tracking technologies to assist with navigation and your ability to provide feedback, analyze your use of products and services, assist with our promotional and marketing efforts.