GWIIN: Championing Women Inventors in Mexico and Beyond

August 2006

“A GWIIN-WIPO workshop helped me realize which IP areas to focus on.” –Simi Belo trademarked and registered the innovative design of her NewHair® wigs, which show the wearer’s scalp through a gap in the hairline to achieve a more natural effect. Photo - Courtesy of Simi Belo
“A GWIIN-WIPO workshop helped me realize which IP areas to focus on.” –Simi Belo trademarked and registered the innovative design of her NewHair® wigs, which show the wearer’s scalp through a gap in the hairline to achieve a more natural effect. Photo - Courtesy of Simi Belo

As the 2006 World Cup plays out in football stadiums across Germany, a rather different international competition is underway. In qualifying rounds in Ghana, Singapore, the United Kingdom and now Mexico City, women inventors of the world are demonstrating their achievements in the hope of being selected to compete for the global women inventors award in India in 2008.

The competition is just one of the many activities run by the Global Women Inventors and Innovators Network (GWIIN). Founded in 1998 by its chief executive, Bola Olabisi, this independent organization aims "to provide recognition and assistance to women inventors and innovators in the long uphill journey from idea to market actualization."

Women, Ms. Olabisi told WIPO Magazine, tend to be natural innovators, solving problems as they go about their daily lives at home and in the work place. Whereas in the past, many such innovations would have gone no further, enterprising women are now bringing to market ever more new products and services. But, Ms. Olabisi observes, their economic potential is still not being fully realized. Women the world over continue to encounter similar difficulties in finding practical guidance on, for example, protecting their ideas, developing prototypes, and constructing realistic business plans. "A lack of support, and in many cases lack of awareness, stifles invention and impoverishes the economic growth of many countries," she says.

Demystifying intellectual property

Central to GWIIN’s work is the demystification of intellectual property (IP) issues, often cited by members of the network as the single greatest benefit of membership. Seminars, workshops, networking events, awards, exhibitions and information products are all used to transfer knowledge and educate participants as to the fundamental role of IP rights in the development and commercialization of innovations. To maximize effectiveness and reinforce the support networks, GWIIN builds close links with relevant organizations such as national patent offices. It also brings women with first-hand experience of registering, using and enforcing IP rights together with aspiring female inventors, in order to provide inspiration and examples of successful practice.

A network of regional member groups, working in partnership with local government agencies and educational institutions, gives GWIIN a broad geographical reach in Africa, Asia and Latin America. The organization has also partnered recently with London Metropolitan University to set up the European Women Inventors and Innovators Network, and will be launching some of its "best practice concepts" in Brussels early next year.

Simi Belo, who runs a UK-based hair products business, explained the impact that GWIIN had on her own decision-making regarding IP rights: "Two years ago I attended a WIPO workshop at the GWIIN event in Singapore. At the time, I was knee-deep in applying for IP rights to protect my innovative wig design. The workshop was great in helping me realize which areas I needed to focus on given the extremely limited budget I had available." Ms. Belo opted for a licensing business model, and now has in place a six-figure licensing deal in the USA for the production, sales and marketing of her NewHair® wigs. "GWIIN’s practical approach to demystifying IP rights and sharing experience was pivotal to the success of the business. Now I contribute in turn by sharing the experience I have gained."

Mexican women in the spotlight

Dr. María del Socorro Flores González won the MEXWII 2006 award for her work on diagnostic methods for the parasitic disease, invasive amebiasis. She will compete against other regional winners in India in 2008. Photo by Liliana Coria

But with ever more women achieving success in science, technology, and engineering, might not organizations to promote women inventors have almost outlived their need? Patenting statistics suggest otherwise. Figures from the Mexican Institute for Intellectual Property (IMPI) cited at the Women Inventors & Innovators Conference, Exhibition & Awards in Mexico City in May, indicate that only 42 Mexican women sought patents for inventions during the past five years. This was compared to 671 patents filed by their male compatriots – and contrasted further with over 32,000 patent applications over the same period from non-Mexican nationals, mostly from the United States of America.

The event in Mexico City, staged by GWIIN and Inova Consultancy, with partners including IMPI, the National Council for Science and Technology (CONACYT) and the National Institute of Women, sought to set about redressing that imbalance. The event was hailed as a success. "It shone a national media spotlight on many unsung heroines among the nation’s creative and pioneering women," said Ms. Olabisi. If the experience of GWIIN award-winners in other countries is anything to go by, the resulting publicity for the Mexican inventors should give a substantial boost to efforts to commercialize their inventions. CONACYT Deputy Director Silvia Álvarez Bruneliere summed up the spirit of optimism, telling the press, "The event opens tremendous possibilities for the talents of Mexican women, and encourages their participation in furthering our national development." CONACYT and IMPI pledged a special fund to support the development of the winning projects.

The overall winner was Dr. María del Socorro Flores González, of Nuevo León University (UANL), for her patented processes to diagnose invasive amebiasis, a parasitic disease which effects millions of people in developing countries, and kills over 100,000 each year. The results of 20 years of research, these meet the need for improved diagnostic methods using technologies appropriate for developing countries, previously available diagnostic tests having proved insufficiently sensitive when used in endemic zones. Dr. del Socorro Flores González will go on to compete in India against regional winners from Europe, Africa, the Middle East and Asia.

Other prize-winning innovations at the Mexican event covered widely diverse sectors. They ranged from a project to produce therapeutic agents from the controlled cultivation of Mexican medicinal plants; to Radio-ADO, a radio broadcast providing sex education for adolescents by adolescents; to a prefabricated pneumatic room or house.

Where next?

"I think we’re going to be seeing a lot more innovations coming from women in Africa," says Ms. Olabisi. "There’s a tremendous potential there. Look out for the Pan–European event in Brussels early next year, and the Pan-African Conference and Awards in Cameroon in October 2007."


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