The importance of women innovators for the economy

Bredenkamp IP Blog

Michael Porter once said “Innovation is the central issue in economic prosperity.” We know that innovators obviously drive innovation and innovation in turn – drives the economy.

This month we raise a glass to all the brave and ambitious women who continuously challenge society’s limits and create innovations which form part of our everyday lives and drive the economy.

One such a brave woman was the Duchess Ada Lovelace, who was the “founding mother” of what we now call a computer program. In 1842, a century before computers existed, the computer pioneer, Charles Babbage, asked Lovelace to translate Luigi Federico’s Menabrea paper on his Analytical Engine6. This analytical engine was the first successful automated calculating machine10. During the translation, she added numerous notes about the machine as well as detailed explanations on how the machine can be used in the future, including algebraic equations for using the machine to generate Bernoulli numbers, which essentially constituted the first computer program6.

Another female computer programmer, Margaret Hamilton, was the strong driving force behind Neil Armstrong and the trillion-dollar space industry. Hamilton coined the term “software engineering” to give legitimacy to that discipline and to distinguish it from hardware and other types of engineering3. She joined MIT’s NASA Apollo project in 1965 and led a team responsible for designing the onboard flight software of the Apollo computers4. Hamilton’s abilities were once again proved on July 20, 1969; just minutes before the Apollo II touched down on the Sea of Tranquility. The computer system of the spacecraft was overwhelmed with tasks unrelated to landing, and Hamilton quickly build priority scheduling software which enabled the computers to prioritise the landing task5. The software designed by Hamilton and her team during the Apollo project was of such a standard that it was later adapted to be used in SkyLab, the space shuttle, and the first digital fly-by-wire systems in aircraft4. Hamilton is also the founder (1986) and CEO of Hamilton Technologies, Inc. There she designed the Universal Systems Language (USL) and its automation, the 001 Tool Suite as well as the preventative mathematical theory upon which it is all based, Developed Before the Fact (DBTF)2.

Stephanie Kwolek, a scientist at DuPont, was stronger than steel. Stephanie invented Kevlar, which is 5 times stronger than steel. Kevlar is commonly used in bulletproof vests, aerospace components as well as some tires. This strong invention generated millions of dollars for DuPont7.

Today we are focusing more and more on using green energy. Maria Telkens made a major contribution to green energy, by creating Dover House, which was the first building to only use solar energy. She later designed a solar oven and an apparatus for distilling sea water, which was included in soldiers’ emergency kits8.

Another great inventor was Margaret E. Knight who invented a machine to fold and glue paper to create flat-bottomed paper bags. Interestingly enough, the invention was stolen from her and patented by a man. Knight took him to court for “patent interference”. He then argued that there is no way that a woman can possibly invent a machine. She won the case and patented the machine. She later invented many other products, including an automatic tool for boring concave or cylindrical surfaces as well as a shoe-cutting machine9.

It is vital to recognise Marie Skłodowska Curie. She is thus far the only person to have won Nobel Prizes in two different fields, physics and chemistry. Marie is a perfect example of how women do not only uplift and empower themselves but also all those around them, especially their families. The Curie family is also thus far the only family where five member received Nobel Prizes.

If one woman could contribute, directly or indirectly, to five Nobel Prizes – imagine a world where more than a mere 5.4 % of Nobel Prizes were awarded to women!

Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day.

Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime11.

Teach a woman to fish, and you feed society for a lifetime10.

10. Sarah Anderson, 2018. 

11. Anonymous. 

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