5 Top Inventions by Women That Changed The World

WOMEN are behind a large number of inventions than they are generally given credit for. In fact, the inventive spirit in women can be traced back hundreds of years. The first patent granted to a woman was in 1637. Here’s a sampling of women inventors and their inventions:

 

1) Mary Anderson – Windshield Wiper

Mary Anderson may be a name many of us have never heard before but all those who drive vehicles use her invention. 1903 was the year that brought about a change in how people travelled in frosty weather. That year, Anderson a native of Birmingham, Alabama, was visiting New York City via a trolley car. Her intention of catching a glimpse of the Big Apple turned into disappointment when the snowy weather became a nuisance. She not only had a hard time seeing through the windscreen that was heavily covered with snow but noticed that drivers were also having difficulty seeing through the sleet and snow. They would have to reach through the window to wipe the snow and sleet off the windshield by hand. She immediately put her thinking cap on. After getting her formula right, Anderson filed for a patent for the first windshield wipers in 1903.

 

2) Stephanie Kwolek – Kevlar

Stephanie Kwolek saved an untold number of lives. A modern-day alchemist, she led the development of a synthetic material called Kevlar which is five times stronger that the same weight of steel. Many police officers owe their lives to her as Kevlar is a material used in bullet proof vests. The eureka moment came while Kwolek was working on specialty fibers at a DuPont laboratory in Wilminton. She is the only female employee of DuPont to be awarded the company’s Lavoisier Medal for outstanding technical achievement. She was recognised as a “persistent experimentalist and a role model.”

 

3) Margaret Knight – Square Bottom Paper Bag

When paper bags were first introduced to shoppers, they weren’t all that useful for carrying things. Shaped like an envelope, its use was limited. However, we have Margaret Knight to thank for the evolution of paper bags. Knight realized that paper bags should have a square bottom; when weight was distributed across the base in this way, more things could be carried in the bag. In 1870, she created a widen machine that cut, folded and glued the square bottoms to paper bags. She was granted the patent for the device in 1871. It’s interesting to note that Knight was awarded more than 20 patents.

 

4) Bette Nesmith Graham – Liquid Paper

In the 1950s the electric typewrite had just be introduced. Despite the convenience, secretaries often found themselves retyping entire pages because of one small mistakes. Bette Nesmith Graham was one of them and being a bad typist did not make the situation any better. An idea sparked when she watched workers painting a holiday display on a bank’s window. She noticed that when they made mistakes, they simply added another layer of paint to cover the mistake. She decided to put the idea to test.

Using her kitchen blender, Graham mixed a water-based tempera paint with dye that matched her company’s stationary. Unfortunately, Graham was fired from her job for spending so much time distributing what she called “Mistake Out”. Having more time on her hands, she tweaked her mixture, renamed the product Liquid Paper and received a patent in 1958.

 

5) Josephine Cochrane – Dishwasher

The real impetus for the invention of dishwasher was driven by the frustration over Josephine Cochrane’s servants breaking her heirloom china after fancy dinners. Her machine relied upon strong water pressure aimed at a wire rack of dishes, and she received a patent for the device in 1886.

Like any modern inventors today, she faced the same challenges back then. She claimed that inventing the machine was easier than promoting it. Undaunted, Cochrane sought appointments with large hotels and restaurants. Today, dishwashing machines are common in many homes as more women enter the workplace.

As a final note, wishing all readers a Happy International Women’s Day 🙂

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Know Your Rights Before Being Taken For Granted

MOST SMEs are started by persons who were once employees in an organisation where they had acquired the necessary technical skills and knowledge to manufacture the product their employer was manufacturing. These same individuals had the entrepreneurial spirit burning deep inside them, and so, armed with the skill/knowledge and a little capital (usually from personal savings, a little help from family members or friends), they venture out on their own to start a business, usually in competition with their previous employer.

There’s nothing wrong with that, of course, unless they are in breach of their employment contract or misuse their employer’s trade secrets or confidential information. The entrepreneur is now on his/her own to conquer the business world.

Initially, the entrepreneur or company started by the employee turned-entrepreneur will compete in the market on price and perhaps superior service to attract new clients. However, one cannot use price advantage for long if one intends to remain in business or for the business to grow bigger. The entrepreneur of the new SME has to secure other competitive advantages to remain in business and for the SME to grow and expand into new territories. This is where Government sanctioned “monopolies” come to assistance. Yes, we are referring to Trademarks, Patents, Industrial Designs and Copyright (collectively referred to as Intellectual Property Rights (IPRs).

Anyone who obtains a registered trademark or a grant of patent or certificate of industrial design has a virtual monopoly over the usage of the right for a limited period of time. The proprietor of these IPRs has the exclusive right to stop others from using an identical or substantially similar trademark or from using their patent-protected technology. With this exclusive right to the IPRs, the proprietor can charge a premium price to their product or service to recover their investment – R&D costs, branding costs, etc.

 

Many entrepreneurs and SMEs perceive the costs of obtaining IPRs as expensive and IPRs themselves as difficult to enforce. Plus there are other misconceptions about IPRs too, and it would probably take an entire article in itself to address these. The fact is, the cost of obtaining IPRs – at least in Malaysia – is not high and is affordable by most SMEs. It is more costly to the business if IPRs are not secured.

Imagine spending thousands of ringgit and years to build up a brand name and yet neglecting to spend a thousand or two more to protect the brand as a registered trademark, the registration of which enables the SME to sue any infringer. Let us cite an actual case that happened in Malaysia: A restaurant business was set up in a prominent part of Kuala Lumpur. Business boomed. The partners never bothered to register the name of the restaurant as a trademark. Unknown to them, some ex-employees registered the business name as a trademark, and it did not end there. After obtaining the registration, they sued the restaurant for infringement of “their trademark”.

The restaurant had to face a long trial in the High Court. Not only did the partners suffer loss of sleep, they (along with the restaurant) were also made to look bad in the media (thus affecting their reputation) and incur thousands of ringgit in legal costs. However, they did finally manage to “get back” their trademark. Their ignorance in not recognising the market power of their trademark nearly cost them the loss of their business. So SMEs, no matter what business they are involved in, should always seek their IP consultants’ advice on obtaining IP rights for the competitive advantages they enjoy.

In the current business world and rapid globalisation of trade, IPRs have come to play a crucial role in the very survival of SMEs. Unless entrepreneurs and SMEs fully appreciate the strategic role IPRs play in the existence or survival of their business, they may be wiped out from business by their competitors who have learnt to use IPRs as a business weapon to destroy or maim rival businesses.

Contributed by P. Kandiah (Founder and Director of KASS International)

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