Women and IP: Accelerating Innovation and Creativity

Thousands of years ago, Enheduanna of Mesopotamia was writing works of art describing many aspects of the human condition. Considered to be the first named author in history, she was creating hymns and poems long before more well known authors like Homer and Shakespeare were honing their crafts. Innumerable women have followed in her footsteps, creating original works that inspire and innovate, shaping the world we live in today. It would be impossible to recount the full depth and breadth of women’s creativity and innovation, much less in this short space. From Emma Lazarus’ poem The New Colossus, which accompanies the Statue of Liberty and seeks “your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” to Georgia O’Keefe’s breathtaking paintings, our world is full of the rich history of women’s creativity.

The theme of this year’s World Intellectual Property Day, Women and IP: Accelerating Innovation and Creativity,” provides an opportunity for all of us to reflect on the importance of these women creators and the challenges that still exist. The World Intellectual Property Organization, which founded World Intellectual Property Day, is highlighting a number of examples of women’s creativity and innovation, and they are joined by other organizations celebrating women in these fields.

Nevertheless, recognition and appreciation for women’s original works has not always matched the creativity that exists.  Studies based on U.S. Copyright Office data provide a glimpse into the historical rates of registration, which is itself a window into how often women creators seek intellectual property law protections. One study found that overall registration rates for women authors increased from 30% to 36% between 1978 and 2012, with significant differences depending on the type of work. For example, registration records suggest that, during that time period, there was an increase in the percentage of women author filings for text, movies, and software, but that the other types of works remained relatively the same. A later study found that the numbers of women authors in registration records continued to increase, showing that women represented 38.5% of authors of registered works in 2020.

Registration records, however, can only provide one piece of the puzzle because registration is not mandatory for copyright protection (though it is necessary to go to court over infringement of a US work or to seek certain types of compensation in litigation). Other indicators show that women creators have made incredible strides in the literary market, with one news story deeming the jump of women authors from 10 to 50% the “book market’s female revolution.”  Improvements are markedly more modest in other areas, with the percentage of women working behind the scenes on movies rising 7% between 1998 and 2022, and the percentage of women game developers rising from 22% in 2014 to 30% in 2021.

On this World Intellectual Property Day, it is important to embrace and encourage women creators and innovators. I hope that you will join me in celebrating women in looking for ways to overcome the challenges that remain.


Author: Catherine Zaller Rowland

Catherine Zaller Rowland is Vice President, General Counsel, at CCC where she advises on complex intellectual property issues around copyright licensing, software, professional services, and the intersection of copyright and artificial intelligence. Rowland has held a range of positions in the private sector and federal government, most recently as Associate Register of Copyrights and Director of the Office of Public Information and Education at the U.S. Copyright Office, where she served as one of four principal legal advisors to the head of the Office on a variety of complex matters. Rowland is a frequent public speaker and has been a key contributor to trade agreement implementation negotiations. She began her legal career in private practice focusing on intellectual property litigation, transactions, and counseling.
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