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Aon Intellectual Property Assets Briefing - February 25, 2021

Thoughts from the Aon Team

While we have primarily used this forum to discuss the value of IP as an asset, this month, and in consideration of International Women’s Day (March 8, 2021), I wanted to talk more about inventorship and the inequities in the innovation creation space specifically as it relates to gender.

While women represent nearly half the labor force, they make up only 28% of the workforce in science, technology, engineering and math. The earnings gap in STEM ranges from 6-14%; however, for Black and Hispanic women it is even more significant, with Black women making 62% of white men’s salaries and Hispanic women making 61%. And when you consider the disproportionate impact COVID-19 has had on women in the workforce, the matter is only compounded.

This issue is especially prevalent in inventorship: Our research shows that women are inventors on patents only 10% of the time. In fact, only 26% of the patent-producing labor force is female. And for further consideration, 80% of all US granted patents have no female inventors and the fraction of patents with majority female inventors has not grown with time.

More than ever companies not only are coming under scrutiny for this gap, they want to do something about it. In addition to being the right thing to do, it is also smart business. Although early in our research, we are finding that patent assets with more diverse inventorship tend to exhibit stronger scores and higher value.

Today there are ways for a company to assess their Talent Acquisition process through their patent abandonment process, to diagnose where there are opportunities to improve gender diversity and the strength of their patent portfolio. What we have experienced in our conversations with clients is that there is a clear market readiness for solutions pertaining to diversity, equity and inclusion related to inventorship.

Using robust, curated datasets and metrics we have developed, we have started to offer clients insights into how to improve gender and racial diversity in their patent portfolios and in their inventorship processes from both a Human Capital and IP Solutions lens. 

There is certainly a lot that needs to get done, and much improvement to be made. But we feel confident that the atmosphere is moving in the right direction, so we want to make sure we are doing what we can – using our own experience and expertise – to move the dialogue forward for the industry and for our own company.

Aon IP in the News

  • Aon has announced that they will give staff additional paid time off if they receive a COVID-19 vaccination.
  • Each year, Aon’s Transaction Solutions Symposium brings together leaders from the M&A industry to share insights on how to improve deal and business outcomes. Aon’s Lewis Lee and Pete Petitt were joined by Matt Zimmer of William Blair and Sean Doyle of Ambridge Partners to discuss how professionals can assess and value technology in deals. The forum session can be viewed here.
  • Greg Case, Aon CEO, was named the number one executive in INvolve's list of OUTstanding Top 50 LGBT+ Ally Executives for 2020. The list recognizes leaders that promote inclusivity and enact anti-discriminatory policies and practices within their organizations.


Executive Insights

  • Blackstone-owned dating app Bumble Inc. raised $2.2 billion in an initial public offering that exceeded expectations, valuing the firm at over $7 billion. The soaring trade debut made Bumble CEO and founder Whitney Wolfe Herd the youngest self-made woman billionaire, highlighting her success in capitalizing on an underserved market. A court fight ensued in 2018 when Bumble rejected a $450 million acquisition offer from Match, which had alleged intellectual property infringement against Bumble. Bumble counter-sued two weeks later, accusing Match of fraud and trade secrets theft. Both lawsuits were later dropped that same year.
    • The International Trademark Association has found that women are so underrepresented in the IP sector that gender parity will not be attained for 99.5 years if no changes are made. Women have suggested networking events and a sponsorship or mentorship program to improve disparities. 
  • Tiffany Tate, an immunization expert who offered the federal government a design for a mass vaccination tracker has accused Deloitte and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention of stealing her intellectual property. She alleges that the CDC expressed interest in buying her tracker after she presented it to Deloitte, but that the CDC then asked Deloitte to build its own system without a competitive bidding process.
  • Software developer Valve Corporation was found guilty of copyright infringement in a lawsuit filed by controller designer SCUF over the Valve exclusive “Steam controller.” Valve must pay $4 million to the plaintiff, potentially costing the developer more than it gained from sales of the device.
  • The U.S. International Trade Commission issued a 10-year battery ban against SK Innovation after rival LG Energy accused the company of mishandling trade secrets related to battery technology. The ruling places a time limit on the company’s battery supply for Ford’s EV F-150, giving SK Innovation time to adjust its business operations. The ruling may give LG Energy a leg up in the U.S., and may force the rivals “to reach some sort of agreement.” 
  • The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has been targeting flea markets, street vendors and retail outlets in an effort to seize $44 million in fake sports and Super Bowl gear over the past year. Online retail giant Amazon assisted with the effort, filing two additional lawsuits that seek to sanction the manufacture and sale of counterfeit items. Federal agencies have seized more than 10 million counterfeit N95 masks and thousands of fake surgical masks in a massive COVID-19 probe, while Homeland Security announced a partnership with tobacco company Philip Morris International to combat the spread of counterfeit vape products. 
  • The World Trade Organization’s appointment of Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the first African and the first woman to be named director general, has renewed focus on a proposed intellectual property waiver to speed the development of coronavirus vaccines. South Africa and India are leading the charge on behalf of countries with little or no resources to fight the virus.
  • The Beach Boys have sold a controlling interest in their intellectual property to Iconic Artists Group, a company run by music executive Irving Azoff. The company will bring the Beach Boys’ music, branding, archives, and more under one roof in an effort to develop an overall brand in addition to their music assets. 


News of Interest

  • New Balance Lands $3.85 Million Win in Chinese Trademark Case Against Copycat New Barlun - The Fashion Law - 2/9/2021
    • Outbound Virality: Facebook: 5 Interactions; Twitter: 18 Tweets
    • New Balance has prevailed in a trademark case that is part of a larger and long-running legal battle that has pitted it against New Barlun, a Chinese sportswear company that has been trading on its name and various trademarks for more than 15 years. In a decision dated January 5, the Shanghai Huangpu District Court ordered New Barlun Co. Ltd and Shanghai Shiyi Trade Co. Ltd to pay damages of RMB 25 million ($3.85 million) to New Balance, in one of the largest judgments awarded to a trademark holder in the sportswear market in China to date. 
  • Biden Faces South African Push to Extend Trade Concessions - Bloomberg - 2/14/2021
    • Outbound Virality: Facebook: 6 Interactions; Twitter: 15 Tweets
    • South Africa’s preferential market access to the U.S. is under review. That’s after the U.S. Trade Representative accepted a complaint from the International Intellectual Property Alliance -- a U.S. private-sector group that represents companies including the makers and distributors of books, films, music and video games -- that alleges the country’s Copyright Amendment Bill and Performers’ Protection Amendment Bill fail to “provide adequate and effective protection” of U.S. copyrights.
  • Congressman Murphy reintroduces legislation to crack down on foreign spying at universities - WITN - 2/18/2021
    • Outbound Virality: Facebook: 20 Interactions; Twitter: 1 Tweet
    • According to the Intellectual Property Commission, they estimate foreign groups steal $300 billion in American intellectual property annually, and the Commission says China is responsible for 70% of that theft or $210 billion annually. Murphy says that statistic is why he and the subcommittee reintroduced the legislation on Thursday. He said the legislation aims to limit intellectual property theft by foreign nationals at colleges and universities. “China is an American adversary – they are not simply ‘competitors’ as President Joe Biden recently stated,” said Murphy.
  • Black Women Inventors Recall Their Paths to Success in USPTO Black History Month Event - IPWatchdog - 2/20/2021
    • Outbound Virality: Facebook: 4 Interactions; Twitter: 14 Tweets
    • Earlier this month, the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) hosted its annual Black History Month program, “Contemporary Black Women Inventors.” The event spotlights Black inventors and business personalities across the United States to showcase their legacy contributions to America’s ingenuity and the innovation economy.
  • Leahy Takes Senate Judiciary Intellectual Property Panel Gavel - Bloomberg Law - 2/14/2021
    • Outbound Virality: Facebook: 1 Interaction; Twitter: 0 Tweets
    • Vermont Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy will lead the Senate Judiciary Intellectual Property Subcommittee in the 117th Congress, the leaders of the full committee announced Sunday. Leahy was the lead Senate author of the America Invents Act.
  • Study reveals the commercial cost of C-suite apathy towards trademark function - World Trademark Review - 2/18/2021
    • Outbound Virality: Facebook: 0 Interactions; Twitter: 0 Tweets
    • In total, 89% of respondents reported missedtrademark-related business opportunities (eg, licensing or moving into global markets and partnerships) because top-level management was not engaged with trademarks. Worryingly, over a third (34%) stated that this meant missing out on a revenue opportunity. 


Social Contribution

  • Department of State @StateDept 13 Feb .@POTUS: We’ll confront China’s economic abuses; counter its aggressive, coercive action; to push back on China’s attack on human rights, intellectual property, and global governance. Retweets: 563 Likes: 1.0K
  • Ezra Klein @ezraklein 17 Feb "The question is no longer who can release the biggest summer blockbuster but who can create the biggest and most sprawling universe of intellectual property." Retweets: 38 Likes: 339
  • Bloomberg @business 31 Jan Chinese President Xi Jinping called on officials to step up protection of intellectual property rights from the perspective of “national strategy” Retweets: 52 Likes: 121
  • Congressman Ken Buck @RepKenBuck 2 Feb This is a drop in the bucket for Amazon. Amazon has crushed small businesses and stolen intellectual property from startups. We must do more to curb their anticompetitive behavior. Retweets: 45 Likes: 112
  • Rep. Hank Johnson @RepHankJohnson 5 Feb I am honored to again take the helm of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property and the Internet. Now more than ever, it’s important for IP laws to be modernized to support innovators, entrepreneurs, and small businesses. Retweets: 12 Likes: 69

Aon’s Intellectual Property Solutions team helps clients identify, protect, and maximize value from their most valuable assets in today’s business world, their intellectual property. Aon brings the best minds and strong analytical tools to provide a comprehensive approach to intellectual property strategy, valuation and risk management across a client’s business -- aligning current and future intellectual property assets with a businesses’ overarching strategy.

For more information about Aon’s Intellectual Property Solutions, please contact  

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