World IP Day 2023

Women and IP: Accelerating Innovation and Creativity

The data is clear: worldwide in 2020, only 16.5% of inventors named in international patent applications were women (this number is also accurate for North America) 1, and only 1/3 of international patent applications list at least one woman inventor2. Underrepresentation of women in Intellectual Property (IP) matters, and more particularly in the patent field, must be addressed. Fortunately, the data does show an increase of the involvement of women in IP. This IP day in 2023, rather than get bogged down in a sociological study about the changing role of women in IP, we will use the recent improvements as a springboard to dive in and acknowledge and praise women’s IP work and their impact on today’s IP world. 

The spotlight of today will be on Patricia E. Bath, an American Ophthalmologist. She is the first African American female doctor to receive a patent for a medical device in the United States. Her medical device was the Laserphaco Probe, a device to remove cataracts. She applied for a patent on this device on December 18, 1986, and was granted U.S. Patent No. 4,744,360 in 19883

By 1988, cataract surgery was not new, and multiple methods had been tested and used over time. During the 18th century, cataract surgery would require a corneal incision larger than 10mm4. More modern extraction of cataracts would be performed using an ultrasound-driven needle to emulsify the lens (phacoemulsification) before aspirating it from the eye. Around 1967, the first surgeries using this technique would need an incision from 3 to 4mm. Over the years, the issue to be improved has been the size of the incision that must be made in the eye to remove the cloudy lens. The aim has been to improve the cataract surgery technique so the incision could be as small as possible, leading to fewer complications and a quicker recovery.  

Patricia E. Bath’s invention was to disintegrate the lens in such small pieces, using a LASER, that the device used to perform the surgery could be very small. Using a very small device would allow the surgeon to make a much smaller incision. That is the main differentiation between Bath’s device and the ultrasound technique5

Bath’s invention consists of “a flexible line including an optical fiber for conducting coherent radiation to the cataract.”6 This flexible line has a partial extension which is an aspiration sleeve. Claim 1 describes the flexible line as having a diameter of 1mm or less. Therefore, the device allows the surgeon to proceed with an incision that is “preferably 1 mm or less, in the eye surface and then through a 1 mm or less anterior capsulatomy into the lens nucleus.”7 

After this patent, Bath was granted four more patents, three of which are related to the Laserphaco Probe, and all are related to cataract surgery8

With her first patented invention, Bath definitely accelerated innovation, particularly for cataract surgeries and devices used in those procedures, by reducing the incision size. Her work has been widely recognized by the medical world. Notably, in 2021, an announcement was made that Bath would become one of the first two Black women to be honored with induction into the National Inventors Hall of Fame.9 

Interestingly, cataract surgery has never stopped improving through the years. As recently as February 2023, it was announced that Alcon and AMO (a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson) reached a global settlement agreement that put an end to litigation in the UK, Germany, the Netherlands, and the US10. These proceedings were related to the “femtosecond laser assisted cataract surgery devices, including Alcon’s LenSx® device” which is a technology for ophthalmic surgery for cataract treatment11. In addition to cross-licenses of some IP rights, Alcon agreed to make a one-time payment of $199 million, proof that cataract surgery continues to evolve and that the stakes, including financial ones, are extremely high for the medical industry. 

Hankin Patent Law, APC is very proud of the accomplishments of Patricia E. Bath that led to the dramatic improvement in cataract surgery and of all of the other women inventors who have improved their areas of expertise. This World IP Day, we can all celebrate these accomplishments that have made our lives better, as well as the ever-increasing number of women who are inventing even more IP to continue to do so. 

  1. See WIPO website, March 8, 2021,
  2. Gema Lax Martinez, Julio Raffo, Kaori Saito, Identifying the gender of PCT inventors, Economic Research, Working Paper No. 33, November 2016
  3. U.S. Patent Number: 4,744,360
  4. Davis G. The Evolution of Cataract Surgery. Mo Med. 2016 Jan-Feb;113(1):58-62. PMID: 27039493; PMCID: PMC6139750.
  5. See Patent 4,744,360, column 1, lines 60-63, “Since the particles produced by this ablation are so small, the device can be made to be extremely small and therefore, the incision likewise can be made much smaller than with other techniques such as ultrasonic”
  6. See Patent 4,744,360, column 4, lines 1-2
  7. See Patent 4,744,360, column 1, lines 47-49
  8. U.S. patent 4744360, “Apparatus for ablating and removing cataract lenses”, issued May 17, 1988; U.S. patent 5843071, “Method and apparatus for ablating and removing cataract lenses” issued December 1, 1998; U.S. patent 5919186, “Laser apparatus for surgery of cataractous lenses”, issued July 6, 1999.; U.S. patent 6083192, “Pulsed ultrasound method for fragmenting/emulsifying and removing cataractous lenses”, issued July 4, 2000.; U.S. patent 6544254, “Combination ultrasound and laser method and apparatus for removing cataract lenses”, issued April 8, 2003.
  1. Scottie Andrew (September 28, 2021). “Black women will be inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame for the first time”
  2. Amy Sandys, 22 February 2023, Alcon and AMO reach global settlement over cataract surgery equipment
  3. Alcon, February 12, 2023, Alcon Announces Settlement of Litigation Related to Femtosecond Laser Assisted Cataract Surgery Devices


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