Are Women Outdoing Men in Patent Awards?

According to the National Women’s Business Council (NWBC) 22,984 patents were awarded to women in 2010, up by an impressive 35% from 2009. In 2009, women received 17,061 patents, which was just a 4.5 percent increase over the 16,321 issued in 2008. Does this trend correspond with an increase in women’s entrepreneurial activity and in the growth of women-owned businesses? Is ownership of intellectual property directly related to entrepreneurial activity? The NWBC seems to think so.

However, if you look at the method that was used in collecting this data, you might not be as convinced. Since patent applications don’t ask for the applicants’ gender, this kind of information was not readily accessible. To determine whether a patent application belonged to a woman or man, researchers had to review each patent application individually and make a determination about  the sex to which the patent applicant’s name belonged based on name alone. To do this, they relied upon multiple sources, including the U.S. Census Bureau and the U.S. Social Security Administration, both of which compiles a list of the 10,000 most common names for men and women. Just under 6 percent of the names in the patent disclosures could not be identified as male or female based on this method.

You have to ask yourself whether this is a reliable method for determination since we all know women and men named Shannon, Jody, and Taylor. The complete study will be released during an upcoming news event at the United States Patent and Trademark Office headquarters in early March, since March is Women’s History Month and the NWBC will commemorate a 35-year history of women inventors by featuring a new female inventor every day on its website during March. I, for one, am rooting for women to outdo men in patent awards. How about you?

Debby Winters

SOPA, PIPA, MEGAUPLOAD…what’s next in Internet Piracy?

Who could have predicted the impact that the online protest had last week. It certainly was big week! Wikipedia and Google had a huge influence in putting both SOPA and PIPA on hold with an entire day of blacking out their sites in protest of these bills that are sure to challenge freedom of speech in ways we never knew were possible. A total of 13 Senators announced their opposition to the legislation, including 11 Republicans and two Democrats. We will just have to wait to see what lies in the future with these two bills.

In addition to this unprecedented protest, Megaupload was seized and shut down by the US Justice Department last week. On 19 January 2012, following indictment and arrest of the owners for allegedly operating as an organization dedicated to copyright infringement, the site was shut down, and possibly for good. If the feds can do this, then why do we even need laws like SOPA and PIPA?

You might be asking what Megaupload is anyway. It is a 6-year-old site that has been based in Hong Kong and has been accused of being an online haven for digital pirates. It was a fast, easy way to store massive files in a “locker” online and then share them with friends or colleagues. The site offered what’s called “one-click hosting,” letting users upload anything on their hard drive or in cloud storage to the Web. The service gave users a URL that could then be shared with others — often on discrete online message boards or social networks — letting them access the file as well. Ironically, while it was breaking the law, it pretended to be upholding it by featuring a tool to “report abuse,” and giving copyright holders the ability to hunt for illegal content. It did all this under the guise of upholding the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), a law aimed at fighting piracy. The DMCA provides a safe harbor for sites that promptly take down infringing content. However safe harbor does not exist if the site has actual knowledge and does nothing about it. That’s exactly what Megaupload is being accused of.

You might be asking what was different about Megaupload and the file storage system that you use, such as Dropbox. Well, for starters the business models are completely different. The Megaupload business was mostly dependent upon advertising. Advertisements were primarily viewed when files were downloaded and the business model was therefore not based upon storage but upon maximizing downloads. Apparently Megaupload was also giving incentives to people to upload high value and demanded content. The indictment says that Megaupload “instructed individual users how to locate links to infringing content on the Mega Sites … [and] … have also shared with each other comments from Mega Site users demonstrating that they have used or are attempting to use the Mega Sites to get infringing copies of copyrighted content” and goes on to say the owners “explicitly discussed evasion and infringement issues, including an attempt to copy and upload the entire content of YouTube.”

What is really important to the protest of PIPA and SOPA is that the action against Megaupload took place just hours after the mass online protest, which goes to show that SOPA and PIPA aren’t needed. The feds already have tremendous power to do whatever it is that they want to do.

Debby Winters

Wikipedia Will Go Dark For 24 Hours?

Have you decided if you are for or against the Anti-Piracy Bills being talked about in the Senate and the House? Recall that in December, I blogged about the Stop Online Privacy Act (SOPA) and the Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA) and told you about how they could affect the internet as we know it? Well, with a vote on PIPA coming up in the Senate, some big and small name websites are getting involved. Will they make an impact? I think they will.

If you are a regular on Wikipedia, don’t expect to find things there on Wednesday January 18, 2012. In protest of SOPA and the PIPA, Wikipedia will join Reddit, a social news website, in a site black out.  Wikipedia, the popular community-edited online encyclopedia and the 6th most visited site in the world, will black out its English-language site for 24 hours to seek support against these bills.

The service will be the highest profile name to join a growing campaign starting at midnight Eastern Time on Wednesday that will see it black out its page so that visitors will only see information about SOPA and PIPA and will contain information urging readers to contact their local congressman to vote against the bills.

Boing Boing, a web-only publication, has confirmed that it too will join the black out. Other big name websites such as Google, Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr, have vocally opposed the proposed legislation, though they have not said they are joining the online blackout. At least not yet, it will be interesting to see what websites join the black out. Turn on your computer at midnight, Eastern Time on January 18th and see…

Debby Winters


All businesses that involve patentable inventions have been, and will be, affected by the Leahy-Smith America Invents Act of 2011 (AIA) but none more than small start-up businesses. Let’s look at why this is so. While the AIA has caused considerable simplification in the definitions of what counts as prior art, it has made most prior art an instant bar to patentability.  In short, it has made identifying prior art easier while making the prior art itself more dangerous to deal with. This is a potential problem for small start-up businesses that may not have the money to file patent applications when it is ideal as any delay could result in something becoming prior art that would not have even been considered prior art if the patent application had been filed earlier in time. This delay in filing not only allows more to fall into the category of prior art, but it can also create a situation where there are more public disclosures of the invention. Delaying the filing of at least provisional applications for new products still under development will become even more dangerous and keeping the invention a secret could be the key. Small start-up businesses should take advantage of trade secret laws more now than ever because while these delays may be bad for patentability there is a significant increase to the value of trade secrecy protection. Protecting ideas as trade secrets, either instead of, or even in addition to patenting, for any inventions that can be kept secret while being commercially exploited might just be the way for small start-up businesses to go.

Debby Winters

Food Safety Modernization Act

Usually I write about Intellectual Property Concerns but I want to talk about something a little different for a change. My past experience in scientific research took me down the path of working with food safety issues. For many years there wasn’t a federal act to protect folks from tainted food. On January 4, 2011, President Obama signed into law the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA)

This Act aims to ensure the U.S. food supply is safe by shifting the focus from responding to contamination to preventing it. In the first year since the FSMA was signed into law, FDA has made significant progress laying the foundation for a food safety system that is grounded in prevention from farm-to-table.

If you are interested in how things are going, 1 year later, read the progress report

Debby Winters