Today is World IP Day and this year’s theme is “Powering Change: Women in Innovation and Creativity.” The United States Patent and Trademark Office’s (USPTO) states the focus of this year’s program will be on “how women come up with game-changing and life-enhancing innovation that transforms and improves our lives while empowering other [women] to do the same.”

A recent study conducted by Yale School of Management showed a gender bias in patent examination with women receiving fewer granted patents than their male counterparts. According to the study, only 10% of patent-holders are women and only 15% of inventors listed on patents are women. Director of the USPTO, Andrei Iancu, recently addressed this issue when he testified in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee in a hearing related to oversight of the USPTO. When asked about the study, Iancu said he would have to research its validity further but as for programs and initiatives for women and minorities there are many currently in operation, they are “critically important” and he would like to “keep going and hopefully grow them.”

In light of the UPTO’s program for this year’s World IP day, take a look at the accomplished female innovators below.

Grace Hopper

Grace Hopper obtained her BA in mathematics and physics from Vassar College in 1928. After graduation she stayed at the college and became an associate professor. While teaching at Vassar, she worked on obtaining her MA in mathematics from Yale and then proceeded to obtain her MA and a Ph.D. in mathematics, a feat that was extremely rare at the time

When World War II began Hopper joined the Navy and took a leave of absence from Vassar and became part of an all-female naval division, WAVES, Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service. During her time as a naval officer, Hopper was sent to the Bureau of Ordinance at Harvard University and was assigned to program the Mark I, an electro-mechanical computer. When the war was over Hopper was so enamored with computer programming she declined a professorship offer from Vassar and stayed on at Harvard under a Navy contract. 

In the 1940s, Hopper began working on the Mark II, it was during this time she made a discovery that led to the coining of a commonly used computer phrase. The Mark II was acting up and they needed to find the source of the glitch. They traced the glitch to a live moth in the computer, which Hopper had to retrieve, thereby “debugging” the computer.  

In the 1950s, Hopper was a senior mathematician for Eckert-Mauchly Computer Corporation and worked on a UNIVersal Automatic Computer I (UNIVAC). During her employment at Eckert-Mauchly, Hopper developed the “A compiler”, a program that transforms source code written in one programming language into another less-intricate computer language.

In 1959, Hopper served as a technical consultant on a consortium called the Conference on Data Systems Language (CODASYL).  At CODSAYL, Hopper helped create the well-known Common Business Oriented Language, better known as COBOL.

In 1967, Hopper helped the Navy formulate a standardized process to communicate between different computer languages. She was able to develop a validation software for COBOL and its compiler as part of the Navy’s COBOL standardization program.

Hopper passed away on January 1, 1992, at the age of 85 and was laid to rest in Arlington National Cemetery.  In 2016, Hopper was posthumously honored with the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Barack Obama.

Hopper once said, “If you do something once, people will call it an accident. If you do it twice, they call it a coincidence. But do it a third time and you’ve just proven a natural law!” 

Shirley Jackson

Shirley Jackson graduated from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 1973, with her Ph.D. in theoretical elementary particle physics. She was one of the first African American students to attend MIT and one of two women in her undergraduate class.  Jackson was the first African Americans to receive a Ph.D. from MIT.

In addition to her academic success at MIT, she was also part of a group that pressured MIT to change their views on minorities. The group pressured the school to recruit more minority students and faculty.  In response, MIT appointed a Task Force on Educational Opportunity to find ways to make MIT appealing to minorities, with Jackson serving on the board.

Jackson went on to work at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory as a research associate. Here she studied subatomic particle and the strong nuclear force. She continued to work in this area focusing on Landau theories of charge density waves in one- and two-dimensions, in addition to Tang-Mills gauge theories and neutrino reactions.

In 1976, Jackson went to work for Bell Telephone laboratories focusing on theoretical physics and electronic properties of ceramic materials that could act as superconductors of electric currents. The technologies she worked on paved the way for others to invent items such as the fax machine, fiber optic cables, and touch-tone phones. Her discoveries were also behind the technologies used in caller ID and call waiting.

In 1995, Jackson was appointed chair of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission by the Clinton administration. This position allowed her to implement regulations to assess risk of nuclear power plants.  She implemented the use of a computer model that would assess potential risk factors and the likelihood of problems occurring at nuclear power plants across the United States

Under the Barak Obama administration, Jackson served on the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST).  She also became co-chair of Obama’s Intelligence Advisory Board where she served until 2017.  In 2016 Obama awarded Jackson the National Medal of Science. Jackson continues to be a respected member of the scientific and educational communities.  Jackson is known for inspiring students to go above and beyond telling the to “reach for the stars.” She once said “We need to go back to the discovery, to posing a question, to having a hypothesis and having kids know that they can discover the answers and can peel away a layer.”

Suiter Swantz IP is a full-service intellectual property law firm, based in Omaha, NE, serving all of Nebraska, Iowa, and South Dakota. If you have any intellectual property questions or need assistance with your patent, trademark, or copyright matters and would like to speak with one of our patent attorneys please contact us.