25 Apr Women and IP: A Toast to Women’s Creative and Innovative Genus
Once again, the global community marks World Intellectual Property (IP) Day tomorrow, 26 April, 2023. In marking this year’s World IP Day, World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO), UN Agency for IP, has turned the theme on the jewels of the world – Women. Significantly, WIPO’s visions of IP have continued to explore the boundaries of creativity and innovation in the shaping of global order. One necessary site in the IP and development dynamics, is the concept of gender parity. The theme ‘Women and IP: Accelerating Innovation and Creativity’ acknowledges women in a special way – a sustained realisation of the role of women in society. It is a concrete reminder of the integrity of our common humanity, that thrives in its diversity and completeness. Creativity and innovation know no bounds, neither do they have tribe, gender or colour. For the most part, the role of women in society is both historic and epic. Historic because the pages of history have always been written on women, of diverse backgrounds, who through their stories, are never to be forgotten for generations to come. Epic because the same history has revealed the catalog of women, who through their landmark creations, have contributed to the flourishing of society; women whose geniuses have changed the world in different fields of human endeavour – the arts and entertainment, science, technology, industry, and more.
Coming on the heels of celebrating the youths last year, this year, and appropriately so, recognises the global momentum and the gains that women have garnered since the beginning of the millennium, especially since Beijing. Clearly, the world’s women have come of age – particularly from the industrial age to the present knowledge era. Since the first patent obtained by a woman over two centuries ago, women have steadily showed up in the arena of innovation, creativity and all facets of human development. Their voice has continued to resonate. Women have been champions of history, as they have been casualties of war and the inhumanity of mankind.
Focus of WIPO
The global debate on women and the pervasive culture of gender bias, needs more concrete action. In this regard, the focus of WIPO once again draws global attention beyond rhetoric. It reinforces existing global advocacy for gender inclusiveness and creates an ‘opportunity to celebrate all talented women around the world’ who continue to unleash boundless energyand ingenuity everywhere. Only last month, the UN Women, the global agency specially created for promoting gender equality and empowerment of women, in the 67th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW67), reaffirmed, among others, the ‘role of technology and innovation, and education in the digital age for achieving gender equality and the empowerment of all women’ This is indicative of the spirit of an inclusive and ‘connected world for women and girls in all their diversity.’
An important factor also lies in the numerical strength of women, who account for about half of the global population, and by that, also account for a significant share of the global stock of talent. This has made the acceleration of women’s ingenuity, even more compelling. Of the current world population of over 8 billion, the female population of about 3.9 billion represents about 49.5%. A similar global ratio is reflected in Nigeria with a female population of 107.5 million, representing about 50% of over 200 million. This numeral strength matters as it does in the weight of the number and its representation in the global ensemble of talents that exists around us. In different regions, the knowledge landscape is replete with women creators, inventors, and entrepreneurs who are making ground-breaking contribution and shaping the world through their ‘imagination, ingenuity, and hard work.’ From the invention of the dishwasher in homes (Josephine Cochran); the making of solar cells, fibre optic cables, portable fax machines, touch-tone telephones, caller ID and call waiting (Shirley Jackson); the development of Global Positioning System (GPS), a precursor to the navigation system we enjoy today (Gladys West); the first discovery of the DNA structure (Rosalind Franklin); to the development of stem cell isolation technique that has spurned advances in oncology (Ann Tsukamoto); and many other revolutionary inventions, women have always contributed to the uplift of the society and standard of living. Generations in the fields of art, music, film, and television have featured iconic women brands and characters too numerous to mention. Nigeria and Africa have consistently remained at the cutting of creativity. From the first Nigerian woman author, Flora Nwapa to Chimamanda Adichie and many others, the roll call is extensive. Prodigious talents in the ilk of Genevieve Nnaji, Omotola Jalade Ekeinde, Sade, Tiwa Savage, Asa, and a flourishing company of Nollywood and music thespians fill the contemporary global stage and screen. Entertainment business has produced the likes of Mo Abudu, Bolanle Austen-Peters, late Peace Ayim Osigwe, and Queen Ronke Ademiluyi-Ogunwusi, just to mention a few. Those are women of irrepressible genus, who have continued to make their marks and accelerate Nigeria’s creative economy. Nigerian women have equally occupied the innovation space across different sectors – scientific, biotech, financial services and fintech, health, education, computing and frontier technologies, and more.
However, all the accomplishments are not without challenges. As WIPO has noted, women continue to face the ‘challenges of accessing the knowledge, skills, resources, and support they need to thrive’. The challenge of access to knowledge is a global complex that has remained a test of intellectual property in its ability to maintain a strategic balance between protecting and accessing creativity and innovation and their associated bundle of legal rights. The pervasive culture of gender bias and the dearth of access to funding, infrastructure, information, education, and more particularly within the local communities due to its largely subsistent level and informal nature of trade have limited the creative and innovative capacity of women. In this dynamic, women are severely affected.
The rural women, for example, in faraway Damboa, Borno State, are constantly in search of new and better methods of harvesting, producing, or marketing their farm produce, or designing their handcrafts in order to support their families, while still living in the fear of Boko Haram terrorists. The young female innovators in the high-tech hub of Lagos or Nairobi are constantly writing new codes or researching new inventions at the edge of artificial intelligence (AI), while grappling with the uncertainty of IP protection for new technologies that are meant to bring reward to innovation. Women actors and performers are not left behind in the challenges of the IP system. Yet the IP institution has remained the cornerstone of protection and promotion of creativity and innovation on which creatives and innovators rely. Nonetheless, the complexity of the global IP system has not been completely supportive, even worse for women creators in the remote regions who are at the receiving end of lack of access to knowledge and technology, and other needs required to scale their talents and innovative capacities.
Copyright Act 2022 & Its Support
That is the reason law and policy reform are important source of support, where relevant IP system offers adequate standard of protection. The prospect of the new Copyright Act 2022, is germane in the context of women and IP in Nigeria’s creative industry. For the first time in the history of copyright law in Nigeria, the Act, anchored on fundamental objectives, has effectively strengthened the legal framework for the promotion of the creative economy and repositioned Nigeria’s core cultural industries through enhanced rights and access in the digital environment. For women, that support is vital to achieving access and the incentives access brings to accelerating their intellectual enterprise. The support is not limited to law alone. It extends to other important initiatives such as training, mentoring, workshops, technical assistance, and providing information and useful tools that will help accelerate women’s creative and innovative capacity. For the indigenous peoples, basic information on the relationship between traditional knowledge (TK) and traditional cultural expressions has become germane to the understanding of maintaining access to knowledge and to the just reward for their intellectual efforts. The various initiatives combine with the law to help in building the capacity of women innovators, creators, and entrepreneurs in local communities, tech hubs and SMEs to make strategic and effective use of IP Rights (IPRs).
In conclusion, not only do we recognise creators and innovators, but we also recognise those who are responsible for protecting, educating, and promoting their IP. May I, in this wise, single out four women forerunners of IP law practice and teaching in this clime – Marlies Alan, Uwa Ohiku, Professor Jemila Nasir and Professor Joke Oyewunmi – among the vibrant company of IP women, who have continued to accelerate IP for the present and future generations of IP lawyers and academics. When women are supported, the benefits are enormous; from the family to children who are the next generation of creatives and innovators, and to society at large. They are the natural candidates for unleashing Africa’s largely informal sector and this makes supporting women creatives and innovators more compelling and profitable for society. With their increasing role in different spheres of life, they deserve to be celebrated in the aspirations of accelerating innovation and creativity. It is certain that women will continue to make their mark in their timeless creations that have not only provided solutions to social problems but in offering of their talents that have been used to improve the human condition, bringing succour and happiness to people of the world. In a world faced with rapid social, economic, technological, and political changes more profound than the industrial revolution of the last century, women in their innate capacity and instinct can nurture an orderly, ethical, and humane value on the paths of global sustainability. Women are the heartbeat of human race, and in a certain way, they truly make the world go round with their divinely endowed nature, passion, compassion, and genius. They are man’s crowning glory and indeed the jewel of the world. We use this occasion of World IP Day to offer a toast to their tenacity and acceleration in the genres of creativity and innovation.
Professor Adebambo Adewopo, SAN, former Director General, Nigeria Copyright Commission; distinguished IP Chair at the Nigerian Institute of Advanced Legal Studies and Partner, L & A Legal Consultants