By Ines Duhanic and Jörn Plettig

Intellectual property law plays a crucial role in fostering innovation within the European Union (EU). It provides a legal framework for inventors and creators to protect their ideas, incentivizing them to bring new inventions, designs and works to market. Protecting these intangible assets for growth, competitiveness, job opportunities and winning the AI and tech race is crucial for the EU.[1] However, striking a balance between robust IP protection and encouraging further innovation is a constant challenge.

The Matilda and Matthew Effects

Two phenomena, the Matilda effect[2] and the Matthew effect[3], highlight the complexities of achieving this balance. In particular, gender parity in innovation still appears to lead to unequal opportunities and stifled innovation. Although the EU is a powerhouse of innovation, a significant leak exists in its pipeline – women-led design and patent protection – which shows a missed potential of the EU. The Matilda effect refers to the tendency for the work of female scientists to be undervalued or attributed to their male colleagues. Conversely, the Matthew effect describes the situation where successful researchers receive a disproportionate share of credit and resources compared to their less-known peers. Let’s delve into real cases that illustrate these effects:

The Silencing of Rosalind Franklin and other women: A Classic Matilda Effect

Rosalind Franklin, a British biochemist, made a major contribution to deciphering the structure of DNA, but never received the appropriate credit for it. Others took the credit for this; in 1962, three men received the Nobel Prize for this very decryption. Franklin did not live to see this; she died four years earlier, when she was 37 years old. Franklin was a woman who changed the world while remaining invisible – like Ada Lovelace, lived a full century before the development of computers and yet wrote the world’s first computer program. Also take the case of Lotte Reiniger: Hardly anyone knows the Berlin film pioneer, but she beat Walt Disney to it. Or Lise Meitner who helped to discover nuclear fission but never won a Nobel Prize for her brilliance despite 49 nominations.[4] This “Matilda story” even goes on until today when the popular movie “Oppenheimer” has won seven Oscars in March 2024 after being nominated in 13 categories, making it the biggest victor of the year. Her name, however, is not even mentioned once in the three-hour-long film.[5] All these women lived and worked at a time when women were assistants and whose contributions were often downplayed by her male colleagues.

Unveiling Hidden Innovators: EU Studies Spotlight Gender Gap in Design and Invention

Recent studies by the European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO), the European Patent Office (EPO), and the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) paint a concerning picture: women remain significantly underrepresented as designers and inventors. This not only overlooks their talent but also creates a skewed narrative of innovation, hindering progress.

Hereto, the WIPO actually summarized on its webpage[6] that disparities exist in the use of the IP system by women and other groups. Although the WIPO is working to bridge them, according to WIPO data released in March 2024, it is estimated that only 17.7% of inventors named in international patent applications were women in 2023. While numbers appear rising, progress is slow. The WIPO estimates that, at current rates, parity among Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT)-listed inventors will only be reached in 2077.

The Data Speaks Volumes

Also, the EUIPO’s 2023 report on women inventors reveals a stark gender gap. Women account for only around 30% of design applications filed at the EUIPO.[7] The EPO’s “Women’s participation in inventive activity” study report echoes this, highlighting that women make up less than 20% of patent filings in Europe.[8] The European Commission’s “She Figures” report confirms this trend globally, with women researchers in the EU working often part time and/or often also only under contract arrangements, earning less than their male counterparts and receiving a disproportionately low share of patents worldwide.[9]

To draw the full picture, it is not a mere EU’s problem. For Norway, for instance, the female director general of the Norwegian Industrial Property Office, Kathrin Myhre, likewise concludes for a lack of female inventors. In a recent interview, Myhre tells World Intellectual Property Review (WIPR): This imbalance is evident in figures from the WIPO, which show that between 2020 and 2022, male inventors accounted for nearly 90% of patent applications from Norway.[10]

“We still have a lot to do in Norway when it comes to encouraging women to start companies, to be innovators, the ones owning IP,” she says.

Myhre says that this balance is changing, and that addressing this disparity is “an ongoing process”, with work being done to help women become inventors and understand the role of IP.

Beyond the Numbers: Examining Women’s Career Paths

These studies delve deeper, exploring the challenges women face throughout their careers when it comes to accolades for designs and inventions. They often encounter difficulties in accessing funding, mentorship, and networking opportunities traditionally dominated by men. Additionally, unconscious bias and a lack of recognition for their contributions can discourage women from pursuing careers towards effective design and patent protection.

A Biased Narrative of Innovation

The underrepresentation of women in IP filings such as for design and patent applications creates a narrative of innovation skewed towards male contributions. This overlooks the valuable perspectives and ideas women bring to the table. Women designers excel at creating user-centric solutions that cater to diverse needs, often overlooked in traditionally male-dominated fields.

Time to Rewrite the Story

The EU, along with international IP organizations, nevertheless can take action to address this gender gap. Here are some key strategies to further women towards IP protection:

  • Promoting Education and Training: Encouraging STEM education for women and offering design-focused training programs can equip them with the skills and confidence to thrive in design and invention careers.
  • Funding and Mentorship Initiatives: Providing financial support and mentorship programs tailored for women inventors and design entrepreneurs can help level the playing field and offer crucial guidance.
  • Recognition and Awards: Highlighting the achievements of women in IP through awards and recognition programs can inspire future generations and dismantle the perception that innovation is a male-dominated field.
  • Diversity and Inclusion Programs: Implementing diversity and inclusion initiatives within IP offices and design agencies can ensure a more equitable environment for female creators.

Theranos: A Cautionary Tale of the Matthew Effect

However, the authors want to make clear that the Matilda effect and the Matthew effect cannot be clearly separated between women and men. Rather, the transitions are fluid and take place in a broad grey area, which in itself underpins the developments in equality.

Theranos, for instance, represents a valid case of the Matthew effect, but being experienced by a woman: This health tech startup promised revolutionary blood tests with a single finger prick. Elizabeth Holmes, the charismatic founder, secured millions in funding and garnered immense media attention. However, the technology never materialized, and Theranos ultimately folded. This case exemplifies the Matthew effect – established figures with name recognition readily acquiring resources, even for unproven ideas.

IP Law and Gender Bias

Given the above background, the herein discussed effects can be perpetuated within the IP system. Women inventors may still be less likely to file for patents or receive recognition for their contributions. Additionally, unconscious bias during patent evaluation could lead to inventions by women being undervalued. On the other hand, the Matthew effect may bolster IP portfolios of established corporations having already vast patent protection to reduce innovations in related fields. This making it also more difficult for smaller players with potentially disruptive ideas to bring their own products to the market while enjoying freedom-to-operate. Such Matthew effect on company level may create a situation where established players dominate the market, limit diversity and the flow of novel ideas.

The EU and Gender Equality in Innovation

The EU already recognizes the importance of addressing gender bias, e.g., in research and innovation. Initiatives like the “EU Gender Equality Strategy 2020-2025” delivers on the EU Commission’s commitment to achieving a “Union of Equality”.[11] Said general program actively promotes gender equality inter alia in research and innovation and encourage projects that address gender imbalances.

The Way Forward

The EU needs to continue refining its IP framework to ensure it effectively balances the following objectives:

  • Protecting Inventors: Providing inventors with sufficient legal protection to incentivize innovation – irrespective of gender, nationality, funding, and recognition in its technological fields.
  • Promoting Gender Equality: Addressing gender bias within the IP system to ensure women receive proper recognition for their contributions.
  • Encouraging Openness: Facilitating knowledge sharing and collaboration to accelerate innovation; e.g., via open-source software and collaborative research models.
  • Support Programs: The EU can fund research grants and initiatives specifically focused on women inventors and female-led innovation teams.
  • Targeted Awards: Member States should create awards and recognition programs that celebrate the achievements of women in science and technology.
  • Gender-Focused Training: Provide training workshops and educational resources specifically tailored to the needs of women inventors, including topics like IP protection and commercialization.
  • Challenge Discriminatory Practices: Address any existing biases within the IP system that disadvantage women inventors, such as unconscious bias in patent evaluation.
  • Support for Female-Owned Businesses: Encourage and facilitate access to funding and resources for female-led startups developing innovative technologies.
  • Diversity in IP Professions: Encourage more women to pursue careers in intellectual property management, and other related fields to increase female representation within the IP ecosystem.
  • Work-Life Balance Initiatives: Promote policies that support work-life balance for women researchers and innovators, such as flexible working arrangements and affordable childcare options.

By achieving this balance, the EU can foster a more inclusive and dynamic innovation ecosystem that benefits all inventors and creators. Only then, we can help to create a more inclusive environment where all people, regardless of gender or socio-cultural background, feel empowered to pursue their dreams in science, art and innovation.

About the blogpost authors:

Ines is a Data Protection Counsel specializing in the pharmaceutical industry. She supports Berlin-Chemie AG, part of the MENARINI Group (the leading Italian pharmaceutical company), and its affiliates across the EU. She advises on compliance, helps the business minimize the risk of regulatory investigations, fines, and reputational damage associated with data breaches or non-compliance, and develops and delivers training programs to employees on data privacy regulations and best practices for handling personal data.

Ines brings a strong legal background to this role. She passed the German bar exam and holds an LL.M. in European Intellectual Property Law from Stockholm University. Her career began with legal experience at the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) in Geneva and international law firms in Berlin, with additional work experience in Sydney. Currently, she’s completing her PhD in copyright law at Freie University Berlin.

Ines is passionate about social justice. Beyond her legal expertise, she volunteers as a pro bono mentor for young people. She also works with organizations like Netzwerk Chancen, a German non-profit that empowers disadvantaged youth.

Dr. Joern Plettig (Site Director; Patent Attorney; European Trademark & Design Attorney) gained insightful professional experience in a globally operating medical technology company as well as in two international IP law firms over the last decade. Thus, Dr. Plettig understands the “needs” of IP-oriented companies, especially from the pharmaceutical, chemical, biotechnology and medical device industries.

From a technical point of view, he holds a PhD in biology with a focus on molecular biology/genetics, cell biology and human biology. However, his work as a patent attorney has expanded his fields of activity many times; for example, to the areas of mechanics and product design as well.

Dr. Plettig completed his publication doctorate on innovative therapies for burn patients at the Charité in Berlin. Before that, Dr. Plettig studied biology at the Freie Universitaet of Berlin. During his academic training, he held several scientific appointments at the University of Pittsburgh, USA.

Since March 2021, Dr. Plettig is responsible for the office management of ETL IP Berlin, a sub-office of ETL IP as a parent company. His areas of expertise lie amongst others in the fields of German, European and International patent, trademark and design law — also including employee invention law. The technical focus of Dr. Plettig is reflected by regenerative medicine; stem cells; diagnostic markers; drug compounds/formulations; mRNA-based compounds; antibodies; vascular intervention; stents; heart valves; and catheter technology.


[1] See for further details Julia Anderson, Europe needs high-tech talent – Investing in people to counter oligopolistic dynamics and dependencies in technology markets, Policy Brief, Strategic Autonomy Series, The Foundation for European Progressive Studies (FEPS), available online:

[2] This effect is named after Matilda Joslyn Gage, a 19th-century American suffragist and abolitionist; she was one of the first people to write about the phenomenon of women’s scientific contributions being overlooked or attributed to men, see for further details: Athene Donald, Not Just for the Boys: Why We Need More Women in Science Get access Arrow, p. 13 ff.

[3] This effect is derived from a passage in the Gospel of Matthew (chapter 13, verse 12), which states: “Whoever has will be given more, and will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them.”; the sociologist who coined the term, Robert K. Merton, used this biblical reference to describe the phenomenon where those who are already successful tend to accumulate even more success, while those who are less successful struggle to gain recognition, see:  Robert K. Merton, The Matthew Effect in Science, in: SCIENCE, Volume 159, Issue 3810, 5 January 1968, pp. 56 ff.

[4] See for all these examples Ruth Lewin Sime, Lise Meitner: A Life in Physics, pp. 109 ff.; Sunita Rawat, Science, Gender, and Power: Women Scientists Who Defied the Odds, Lucknow 2023, p. 3, p. 93, p. 193.

[5] Olivia Campbell, Opinion: Lauding Lise Meitner, Who Said ‘No’ to the Atomic Bomb – The movie ‘Oppenheimer’ makes no mention of the co-discoverer of nuclear fission. But she would have wanted it that way, Undark Magazine, 24.08.2023, available online:

[6] See

[7] EUIPO, Women in design, 2023, p. 36, available online:

[8] EPO, Women’s participation in inventive activity, p. 9, available online:

[9] Directorate-General for Research and Innovation (European Commission), 2019, She Figures 2018, p. 190, available online:

[10] See WIPR, “NIPO’s Kathrine Myhre: equality is an ‘ongoing process’ in Norway”, in: WIPR News, Features, Diversity, 8 April 2024, available online:

[11] For more details, see the EU Commission’s website:,Commission%20in%20her%20political%20guidelines.