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The legal industry has traditionally been male-dominated, with few women holding leadership positions. However, in recent years, there has been a growing recognition of the importance of diversity and inclusion in the legal field. This has led to an increase in the number of women entering the profession, particularly in commercial law specializing in intellectual property (IP). 

IP plays a vital role in the innovation and creativity of various industries, from technology and pharmaceuticals to music and fashion. IP rights, such as patents, trademarks, and copyrights, protect the innovative and creative ideas and products of individuals and companies. It is an area of law that is rapidly evolving, with new laws, regulations, and technologies emerging all the time. This makes it an exciting and challenging field for lawyers, particularly for women seeking to break into the profession, who are contributing to the diversity of perspectives and ideas in the profession.  


One of the most notable contributions of women to the IP profession is in the area of patents. Women have made significant contributions to patent law, both as inventors and as patent attorneys. For example, Hedy Lamarr, an Austrian-American actress and inventor, developed a technology known as frequency hopping, which was later used in the development of Bluetooth® and Wi-Fi. Also, Stephanie Kwolek, an American chemist, invented Kevlar, a material used in body armour and other protective gear. Women also make up a growing proportion of patent attorneys and agents, who help inventors and companies secure their patents and protect their innovative ideas. 

Considering woman in business, IP has been used as an asset for businesses and has provided a competitive advantage to companies. Women entrepreneurs and innovators who are knowledgeable about IP have used it strategically to build and grow their businesses in efforts to attract investors, secure partnerships, negotiate licensing agreements, and enter new markets. With a solid understanding of IP women-led businesses can contribute to their overall success and sustainability. 

With different backgrounds and experiences, women bring unique insights and solutions to the table. This diversity of thought can lead to more creative and innovative ideas that can help companies develop products and services that better serve their customers.  


To every positive side there is a negative side and women are more prone to face several challenges in the legal commercial and IP profession. Here is an indication of some of them: 

  1. Gender Bias: Despite the progress that has been made in recent years, gender bias still exists in the workplace. Women in such professions may face challenges such as being passed over for promotions, receiving lower salaries than their male counterparts, and not being taken seriously by their colleagues. 
  2. Lack of Representation: Women are underrepresented in the IP profession, particularly in leadership positions. This lack of representation can make it difficult for women to find mentors, sponsors, and role models. 
  3. Unconscious Bias: Women in the IP profession may experience unconscious bias, which can impact their career growth and advancement opportunities. For example, a male colleague may be perceived as confident and assertive, while a female colleague exhibiting the same behaviours may be seen as aggressive. 
  4. STEM Careers: Women are less likely to be trained and encouraged to enter STEM fields, as well as to receive the resources they need to succeed in business. 
  5. Retention: Many women leave the IP profession before reaching leadership positions due to the challenges they face. Retention of women in the IP profession is important to ensure gender diversity and to provide role models for future generations of women in the profession. 


Despite these challenges, women are making significant strides in the field of commercial law, and IP specialisation and to adequately address challenges that woman may face in the field, it is important to: 

  • Encourage women to pursue to demonstrate competency and take on leadership roles in law firms, legal departments, and continuously add valuable contributions to the field.  
  • Take the initiative to achieve acceleration of innovation and creativity in the field and take steps to empower other women in the profession, by mentoring and networking with younger lawyers, advocating for greater diversity and inclusion in the legal industry.  
  • Encourage companies and organizations to prioritize promoting diversity and inclusion in their hiring and promotion practices, as well as in their workplace culture. Promoting and providing support and resources for women who are balancing work and family responsibilities.  
  • Create mentoring and sponsorship programs that can help women become more exposed to the IP and commercial law profession and assist with connecting these young individuals to experienced colleagues who will develop the skills and knowledge needed to advance in their careers. 
  • Increasing the number of female STEM professionals and implementing targeted training programs for women interested in IP law and commercial careers it is possible to increase the number of female IP law and administration professionals. 

Overall, it can be recognised that women are playing their part to contribute to the ever-growing profession. However, more work needs to be done to ensure that women have equal opportunities and support to succeed in this profession. By promoting diversity and inclusion and providing support for women in the profession, we can help to create a more equitable and innovative world. Increasing women’s knowledge in the profession is critical for empowering women innovators, promoting gender diversity in innovation, and fostering creativity. By providing education and training, mentoring and networking, access to resources, partnerships and collaborations, raising awareness and advocacy, and promoting role models and representation, we can create an enabling environment that empowers women to utilise IP protection effectively. This will not only benefit women innovators but also contribute to overall economic growth and societal development. It is imperative that we take proactive measures to accelerate the knowledge of the profession among women and create a more inclusive and equitable innovation ecosystem. 

Sivenathi Nyangane

Associate Attorney
Tel:+27 11 324 3093

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