08 March 2024

Mathys & Squire Partners celebrate women pioneers and inventors

This year for International Women’s Day, we asked a few of our partners to highlight inspiring female inventors and pioneers that have had a lasting impact on intellectual property (IP). Partners Jane Clark, Helen Cawley, Caroline Warren and Dani Kramer outline the incredible careers and legacies of Sheila Lesley, Kathi Vidal, Anna Connelly and Grace Hopper.

Partner Jane Clark recounts her experience with Sheila Lesley

Partner Jane Clark recounts her experience with Sheila Lesley OBE, one of the ground-breaking examples in the UK of women in IP and the first female President of CITMA, The Chartered Institute of Trade Mark Attorneys.

“My female role model in IP, well there weren’t many around in the UK back then, but in any event it has to be the incomparable Sheila Lesley. Sheila was a pioneer for women in the UK IP profession.”

As set out in the linked obituary, Sheila attended Girton College, Cambridge, specialising in Natural Sciences and Law but decided not to pursue a career in chemical research after being inspired by seeing John Logie Baird, the inventor of television, walking across the golf course in Bude. Instead, Sheila joined Forrester Ketley & Co. (now Forresters IP) qualifying as a UK Chartered Patent Agent (as UK Patent attorneys were then known) in 1953.

“Ours was then a male-dominated profession, so much so that Sheila was the first woman in 29 years to qualify as a UK Chartered Patent Agent (as UK Patent attorneys were then known)!”

Sheila went on to become the first female president of The Chartered Institute of Trade Mark Attorneys and her contributions were recognized with an OBE in 1988.

“I started work as a trainee patent attorney at what was then Forrester Ketley & Co. when Miss Lesley (as we were expected to call her) was already a senior partner. As a senior partner of the firm, she was employing far more women trainees than any other patent attorney firm in the UK at that time.”

“Despite the fact that Miss Lesley focused on trade marks, she always found time to support the female trainee patent attorneys. Indeed, I vividly recall taking a general inquiry call from a “gentleman” who said to me he didn’t want to talk to a girl and would I put him through to a man. I was polite but obviously offended, explained to the “gentleman” that I would transfer the call to one of our senior partners and transferred the call to Miss Lesley explaining before I transferred the call exactly what the “gentleman” had said. Miss Lesley told me later that she had politely told the “gentleman” concerned that we did not want his business. I would still love to know exactly what Miss Lesley said to him!”

Partner Helen Cawley showcases the work of Kathi Vidal

Partner and Head of Trade Marks, Helen Cawley, wanted to highlight Kathi Vidal, Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).

“Kathi is clearly a very intelligent lady who is at the top of her profession.  At the same time as being a role model she invests time in others to help them reach their full potential.”

As chief executive of the USPTO, Kathi Vidal heads one of the largest Intellectual Property (IP) offices in the world, with an annual budget of $4 billion and over 13,000 public servants. Kathi was named as one of Managing IP’s top 50 most influential people in IP in 2022.

Attending Binghamton University at the age of 16, Kathi received a bachelor’s in electrical engineering and accepted a position at General Electric Aerospace, (now Lockheed Martin), prior to graduating. During this time her time at General Electric Aerospace, she designed one of the first A.I. intelligence systems for aircraft, as well as aircraft engine-control systems that are still used today.

She has helped to protect intellectual property rights, representing a broad spectrum of companies from start-ups with limited resources to some of the world’s most well-known companies.

Throughout her career, Kathi has shone a light on the importance of mentoring and creating opportunities for women from diverse backgrounds.  She continues this important work today.

Partner Caroline Warren outlines Anna Connelly’s lasting impact on public safety

Partner Caroline Warren wanted to celebrate Anna Connelly, a famous innovator that developed an external metal staircase in 1887, which is considered to be one of the earliest systems specifically designed as a fire escape.

One of America’s earliest female patentees, Anna Connelly’s contributions to public safety has seen her responsible for saving thousands of lives for over a century. She was one of the first women to be granted a patent for an invention after the American Civil War, and revolutionised building safety through her system of exterior metallic staircases and platforms that enabled people to escape a building in the case of a fire.

“Anna’s invention is one of those ideas that seems so obvious after it’s been thought of, but it was a real revolution at the time and has saved countless lives since.”

An extract from Anna Connelly’s original patent (US368816A) describes the logic behind her ingenious design:

“My invention relates to improvements in fire-escapes; and it consists of a bridge surrounded by a railing and having openings in the ends of the floor thereof, as herein described, the said bridge being adapted to be placed on the roofs of adjoining or adjacent buildings, thereby permitting the ready and safe passage from one roof to the other.”

Partner Dani Kramer highlights Grace Hopper’s legacy in computer programming

Partner Dani Kramer wanted to showcase the incredible work of Grace Hopper, a pioneer in computer programming.

“The trailblazing contributions that Grace Hopper made to the early development of computer programming languages and the compiler led to the computing industry as we now know it. “

In 1952, Hopper developed the first ‘compiler’, a computer program that allows written instructions to be translated into computer code.

“What I was after in beginning English language [programming] was to bring another whole group of people able to use the computer easily … I kept calling for more user-friendly languages. Most of the stuff we get from academicians, computer science people, is in no way adapted to people,” Hopper explained in a 1980 interview.

Born in 1906, Grace Hopper graduated from Vassar College with degrees in mathematics and physics, later joining the US Navy following the bombing of Pearl Harbour. She was assigned to the Bureau of Ships computation project at Harvard following an initial rejection due to her age and diminutive size, according to a Yale University biography. This project saw her work on the Mark I, the first US electromechanical computer, calculating rocket trajectories, anti-aircraft gun range tables and calibrating minesweepers.

After the war, she joined the Eckert-Mauchly Computer Corporation, later Sperry Rand, where she pioneered the idea of automatic programming. It was here that she developed the compiler.

Nvidia, the global market leader in computer chips used in AI applications, and CEO Jensen Huang, recognise the importance of Hopper to AI computing and named one of their latest chips after her – the GH200 Grace Hopper Superchip. The company’s H100 chips (H for Hopper) are specifically designed for AI applications, and power generative AI services like ChatGPT.