International Women in Engineering Day

26 June 2017

The 23rd June 2017 marked International Women in Engineering Day, and people across the globe continued to celebrate the achievements of outstanding women in the industry. To mark the occasion, we have taken a look at some notable inventions by women across the world.

In the 1980s, women represented less than 4% of inventors on GB patent applications, but this has steadily risen to over 8% in recent years*. Despite the small proportion of patents filed, women have come up with some impressive inventions which have made a large contribution to today’s world. Here are just three of these women and their inventions:

Stephanie Kwolek
In the 1960s, Stephanie Kwolek was a research chemist at DuPont, where she specialised in low-temperature processes for the preparation of polymers. She discovered a whole new branch of polymers, liquid crystalline polymers, and while working on these, created Kevlar (Poly-paraphenylene terephthalamide). A patent for the invention was filed in 1933, and subsequently granted. Kevlar’s high strength properties, particularly its tensile strength-to-weight ratio, have enabled its use in a wide range of applications from armour to sports equipment.

Stephanie Kwolek worked for DuPont until retirement and during this time was named as inventor/ co-inventor on 17 patents.

Sarah Guppy
Sarah Guppy was an English inventor, who lived in Clifton, Bristol. In 1811, she patented her “New Mode of Constructing and Erecting Bridges and Railroads without Arches” - a method for creating foundations for suspension bridges. Sarah licensed her invention for free to Thomas Telford, who used it for his Menai Bridge. As Sarah was a close family friend of Isambard Kingdom Brunel, it is debated whether he also used her invention when constructing the Clifton Suspension Bridge.

Sarah was also involved in the development of the Great Western Railway, and received several other patents, including a candlestick that allowed candles to burn longer, a new way of boiling eggs, and an exercise bed for women!

Mary Anderson
Born in Alabama, Mary Anderson was on holiday to New York in 1902 when she noticed that car drivers had to open the windows of their cars when it rained so that they could see the road ahead. She went away and developed a prototype with a local company for a device which could be operated by a handle inside the car, which would clear the outside surface of the windscreen. Her patent for a “window-cleaning device” was granted in 1903.

Window cleaning device

A notable improvement on Mary’s device, the first patent for an automatic windscreen wiper was also granted to a woman - Charlotte Bridgwood, in 1917. Sadly, neither of the inventions achieved much commercial success at the time, and it was only after the expiry of the patents that windscreen wipers became more popular.

At Haseltine Lake, we work closely with inventors (both women and men!) to ensure that we really understand their invention. By doing this, we can make sure that they get the protection they deserve.

*Gender profiles in UK patenting: An analysis of female inventorship – published by the IPO in 2016.

Chloe Farrar

Chloe Farrar

Trainee Patent Attorney

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