It’s said that change happens in two ways – gradually, then suddenly.
Those who work in the IP space know the truth of this. Innovation in a particular field or sector can evolve gradually over years or decades, punctuated by moments of intense inventive or creative disruption. These episodes can be sparked by internal forces, or by external factors, such as the challenges of the COVID pandemic driving profound innovations in the life sciences, particularly the rapid development of game-changing mRNA vaccines.
As we celebrate another International Women’s Day and reflect on its theme for this year of #EmbraceEquity, it is worth exploring whether the same pattern of gradual then sudden change applies to the issue of gender equality, particularly when it comes to the legal profession.
Many would agree that important progress has been made over recent years to address barriers and biases in the workplace and to provide equal opportunities for woman to achieve and excel. Gradual improvements can accumulate into a wellspring of reform, but periodically opportunities arise for sudden and systemic change.
For instance, this year will see the biggest change to the European patent litigation landscape in five decades, with the creation of the brand-new Unified Patent Court (UPC). Initially spanning 17 European countries, totaling some 300m people, with a combined GDP of $12tn, the UPC when officially launched in June will bring a fundamental change to the essential structure of the European patent landscape.
Building a new system from the ground-up presents an enormous opportunity to implement change. It is therefore pleasing to see that, according to its latest announcements, the majority of legally qualified judges appointed to the UPC are female, 18 out of a total of 34. By comparison, in the UK judicial system, only 30% of senior judges (High Court and above) are women.
In other areas, however, the UPC appointments are not so positive. Of the 51 technically qualified judges that have been appointed, only 8 – or around 15% – are women. At first sight, this seems surprising when one considers the many technically able women patent attorneys and examiners, across UPC member states. Perhaps this illustrates the continuing need to encourage girls and women to study STEM subjects and to pursue careers in technical fields to the highest levels.
This International Women’s Day let’s remind ourselves that embracing equity not only benefits those within the profession, but also the system as a whole, bringing diversity of thought, perspective, experience and expertise, thereby helping to raise the standards of justice delivered on behalf of clients of all kinds who turn to it for help.