Singapore a hotbed for female inventors, new figures show

(From left) Singer-songwriter Tay Kewei, former director general of Intellectual Property Office of Singapore Liew Woon Yin and president of PrimeTime Business and Professional Women's Association in Singapore Lavinia Thanapathy.
(From left) Singer-songwriter Tay Kewei, former director general of Intellectual Property Office of Singapore Liew Woon Yin and president of PrimeTime Business and Professional Women's Association in Singapore Lavinia Thanapathy.ST PHOTO: LIN ZHAOWEI

SINGAPORE -Singapore is proving to be a hotbed for female inventors, new statistics show.

Of the 664 patent applications to the Intellectual Property Office of Singapore (IPOS) last year, 41.7 per cent of them included women.

This compares to the international figure at 31 per cent out of 224,000 patent filings under the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) system last year, and 23 per cent a decade ago.

The figures were released by WIPO, a United Nations agency, on Thursday (April 26) - which is also World Intellectual Property Day - at an event at the The National Design Centre.

Established female inventors here include Singapore-based Professor Jackie Y. Ying, Fellow of the United States National Academy of Inventors (NAI) and former executive director of the Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology (IBN).

As the head of the NanoBio Lab at the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*Star), she holds more than 180 primary patents and patent applications in various fields including nanomedicine, drug delivery and cell and tissue engineering.

"Frequently, women have a broad perspective that bridges different disciplines, pioneering new frontiers in research and enterprise," she said.

"It would be timely to recognise their efforts and achievements, and make sure that they are given leadership roles to close the gender gap, especially in the top echelons of academia and industry."

Another homegrown inventor is baby bottle manufacturer Yvon Bock, whose company Hegen reinvented the device to provide an easier and more sustainable breastfeeding option.

A panel discussion at the event also heard that gender progress could be seen in the public sector with the recent cabinet reshuffle, which now has three women ministers. This is the highest number of female ministers appointed here.

However, WIPO cautioned that a gender gap persists. Panelist Ms Lavinia Thanapathy, president of PrimeTime Business and Professional Women's Association in Singapore, said there is still a lack of women in senior leadership.

"In many ways, women have it good here - security, access to education, healthcare. But there are still many areas for work to be done," she said. "For Singapore, (the problem) is women in leadership. It's very glaring for a country with such accomplished women."

Mr Denis Croze, WIPO Singapore office director, said: "The solutions for more gender equality are well known and it is not for me to develop this aspect except by stating that it is important to develop innovation ecosystems in which women can thrive. In this respect, it is crucial to break down gender stereotypes which still remain widespread."

Sharing the floor was Ms Tay Kewei, a Singaporean singer-songwriter who learned the importance of intellectual property rights after six years of her creative work was wiped off the internet by her label when its Singapore arm ceased to exist. In the past, she had unwittingly signed the master rights of her music away.

Former director general of IPOS Ms Liew Woon Yin also shared in her speech a list of female inventors, none of whom are household names, but are masterminds of crucial inventions.

Ms Liew said: "So the next time you use the GPS system in your phone, the windshield wipers when you are driving in the rain, or eat a chocolate chip cookie - remember the woman behind the invention."