World IP Day Reminds Us How EDI Facilitates Innovation for a Sustainable Future

Jessica Trostel, ME, MSL
Director of Intellectual Property Strategy
Colorado State University STRATA
AUTM Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Committee


With organizations all over the globe making plans for World IP Day on April 26, I’ve found myself contemplating the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) outlined by the United Nations. WIPO has highlighted these 17 goals in calling for the use of ingenuity and intellectual property “to achieve a sustainable future for everyone, everywhere.”

The 17 SDGs were developed as a blueprint for society to more clearly focus on peace and prosperity for all people, and our planet. Executing that blueprint will involve navigating many challenges that are multi-faceted and will require intellectual property (IP) and innovation to solve. It will also require all of us in the global innovation community to redouble our efforts to support equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI).

 If we harnessed the power of innovation, what would the world look like if there was zero hunger, access to quality education, and complete gender equality? What kind of future could we build together? Studies continue to indicate that EDI has a profound impact on creativity and innovation because it allows individuals from a wide variety of backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives to participate within the innovation and startup ecosystem.

Over the past decade, there has been a rise in social entrepreneur startups globally, seeking to make a positive impact on the world. However, Crunchbase reported that black-founded startup funding in the US received less than .5% of the $140.4 billion in venture funds last year, and Extend Ventures found that rate was just .95% in the UK. Further, TechCrunch pointed out that venture funding for other marginalized groups in the US, including Latino founders, are often as low as the black community. And female-founded companies in the US only received 1.8% of venture funds (or $3.1 billion) – the lowest percent allocated to such teams since 2016; unfortunately, the numbers from Europe aren’t any better. Consequently, while it is clear that we as a society hear the call to create social impact, the innovative potential of these excluded individuals is underutilized.

It is more important than ever for innovation stakeholders to make greater efforts to engage with historically underrepresented individuals. A study by Ocean Tomo found that in 2020, IP-backed intangible assets were responsible for 90% of all business value in the US and 74% in Europe. Yet, according to WIPO data released last year, only 16.2% of inventors named in international patent applications were women. This tracks with recent studies indicating women are outnumbered 5 to 1 in senior leadership (and 26 to 1 for women of color) at the top 100 publicly traded US companies (Forbes); only 21 women are chief executive officers in the FTSE 350 British stock market index (The Guardian); and across 163 countries combined, only 32.2% of senior leadership positions (director, vice-president, or C-suite) are women (Zendesk). And while EDI initiatives seek to promote the fair treatment and full participation of underrepresented individuals, it is glaringly obvious that if the IP innovation gap continues to grow, we will be unable to meet the 2030 SDG deadline – even with a heightened focus on impact.

Thus, in support of WIPO’s efforts to bring greater attention to the SDG through IP initiatives that strengthen participation by excluded groups, I urge us all to take this opportunity to re-think how we support these individuals. The IP and Gender Action Plan created by WIPO outlines various initiatives to create opportunities (p. 9) to support women and girls, which also can be applied to other underrepresented groups. Moreover, in supporting the AUTM community’s EDI pledge to increase the diversity of our organization and programming , we can leverage our interconnected network and start by:

  1. creating sustainable IP project models that can be shared with each other and replicated
  2. broadening our existing networking support hubs to better integrate our institutions; and
  3. expanding our pipeline by building awareness of the IP system in children from all demographics, teaching them how IP can support their future goals and dreams.

It is only through working together that we can all make sustainable change and build a better future.