Saturday, November 27, 2010

'Women inventors can revitalize economy'

By Do Je-hae

An important measure of a country's development is the utilization of its women and their economic involvement.
Nurturing women as thinkers and creators of "daily life inventions" is a great way to empower women, according a Korean businesswoman who heads the world's first global network of women inventors. 

Han Mi-young, vice president of Taeyang Metal Industrial, founded the World Women Inventors & Entrepreneurs Association (WWIEA) in 2008, with backing from the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO).

"Women's interest in invention and issues of intellectual property rights say a lot about where the country is headed," Han said during a recent interview with The Korea Times. "If women are economically active, then a country's competitiveness is in good hands. And if mothers are inventors, then their children are likely to have a future of creativity."

She underlined that promoting women's active role in inventing is a mission of particular urgency in underdeveloped countries as well as in countries like Korea, where adult women tend to lack self-sufficiency, especially after marriage.
"Having the headquarters of an organization like the WWIEA in Korea is good for the nation's image," she added.

Currently, the WWIEA has 28 member nations, including China, Egypt, Hong Kong, Nigeria, Pakistan, Poland, Vietnam and others.
"Having widely traveled around the world, I noticed that even in advanced countries, women aren't that active inventing. With Korea's increasing zest for intellectual property, I thought we could become a leader in the area of women inventors and decided to establish the WWIEA in Seoul."

In international patent filings, Korea was ranked fourth last year after United States, Japan and Germany, according to a WIPO report.
The WWIEA held a general assembly in October, where the WWIEA and VWU (Vietnam Women’s Union) signed an MOU for cooperation to boost women's economic growth.

The WWIEA provides educational programs on intellectual property rights and conducts case studies. 
Han has been leading the Korea Women Inventors Association (KWIA) since 2003 and has initiated a series of forums and workshops to share Korea's cases in transforming housewives and mothers into inventors and entrepreneurs. 

"The core aim of our work at KWIA is to assist women in gaining economic independence, elevating their social status, ultimately solve gender gaps through disseminating inventions by women."

The organization has 4,500 registered members and has held the Korea International Women's Invention Exposition and Korea International Women's Invention Forum in Seoul every year.
The exposition is the only women's invention exposition held at a global level, aiming to discover, publicize, and exhibit creative and novel inventions, and provide business opportunities.

The event has served as a primary venue for exchange and cooperation among women inventors within and outside Korea.
"We have had great reactions, particularly from underdeveloped countries," Han said.

The KWIA's priority is to educate women on inventing and guide those with inventions through the process of commercialization.
If a housewife has an idea for a new product, she can register it at the Korean Intellectual Property Office (KIPO). After getting the intellectual property rights for the idea from the government agency, she can sell it to manufacturers.

It costs 5 to 10 million won per patent. 
"At first, my goal was to produce a 'star entrepreneur' every year amongst our members," Han said. "But it has not been easy. A product's viability depends on so many factors, like timing."

One of the most visible success stories from a KWIA member involves Haan Corp. CEO Han Kyung-hee, a housewife-turned-businesswoman and the creator of the "steam cleaner."

Resolving everyday inconveniences

One of the biggest hindrances to invention is the common perception that the task of innovation and creativity is reserved for trained specialists and scientists.

"Invention can start with the urge to resolve inconveniences in everyday life," the KWIA president said. "Invention is an area that transcends one's level of education, age and gender."

The KWIA members range from teenagers to elderly women in their 70s. Some have never been schooled and others have PhDs.
"All one needs is an idea. The KWIA can help them connect with the necessary specialists and technicians." 

The organization sends trainers to cities and provinces across the country for lectures on how to acquire intellectual property rights.
Male inventors can be admitted as "honorary members."

Korean women are driven, creative and well-educated and these are traits central to an inventor, according to the Ewha Womans University graduate.

Han herself was a housewife before she entered business and has acquired patents for several inventions.
"Women have an edge over men in inventing as they have a delicate sense and unique flexibility. They have the ability to create something they need."

In this vein, women are ideal to create a "living invention," a term coined by Han. It refers to inventions that can be applied to fix inconveniences in our daily lives.

Han emphasizes that inventing is ideal for women who wish to work at home and take care of her children at the same time. 
Around 300-400 KWIA members have commercialized their inventions, but only a handful have done so successfully. But many have made a profit by trading their patents with manufacturers.

Training the disabled

Another important facet of KWIA's projects is to get the disabled involved in inventing.
"The physically challenged may have problems in mobility, but many are still bright and are full of ideas," Han said. "Inventing can help them attain self-sufficiency."

The organization provides special education programs on creativity for physically-disabled inventors.
In addition, KWIA runs classes for nurturing "invention specialists" to provide creativity and invention education for preschoolers and elementary school students as extra-curricular courses. 

"This is to contribute to the early education of talented children and provide job opportunities for women inventors." After taking courses from KWIA, applicants are eligible to take the "women invention instructor certification test."

Who is Han Mi-young?

An example of noblesse oblige

By Kim Jae-won

Contemporary rich Koreans have often been criticized for their lack of noblesse oblige. They come first in tax evasion, while their sons get military exemptions more easily than others.

However, here is one exception, which shows what the true Korean upper-class citizen’s social responsibility should be.
A 56-year-old woman, who says she has been blessed to be from a wealthy family, has worked for the underprivileged and physically challenged women by helping them discover their potential in inventing and allowing them to gain financial benefits through the measure.

Korea Women Investors Association (KWIA) President Han Mi-young said she came to know the invention association by chance, but later realized it can be excellent motivation to help women who are in need.

The vice president of Taeyang Metal Industrial joined KWIA in 2003 through her friend’s recommendation. At the time, the organization had many problems including internal feuding and a debt-driven budget. The Korean Intellectual Property Office (KIPO), a government agency which supervises the organization, recognized the problem and thought that Han would be the ideal person to lead the association.

“The head of KIPO asked me to be the president of KWIA. He was persistent and did not let me go home for four hours until I accepted his suggestion,” Han explained the background of her decision to lead the group.

As expected, there was bumpy road ahead of her. The financial books of the organization were in poor condition, and even more crucial, it owed about twenty million won to lenders.
“I had one financial expert check the financial books. He suggested to me not to engage in the organization saying its financial situation is dangerous.”

Han was in distress. She considered stepping down from the post, but thought it is her calling to be with underprivileged women who need her help.
“I always prayed that God would give me a chance to help others sometime. I thought maybe it was the sometime,” said the Ewha Womans University graduate recalling the moment.

As she started to lead the organization, it has changed a lot. She was at the epicenter of the reformation.
“President Han donated her private assets for the organization to revive it. She worked really hard for it,” KIWA spokeswoman Kim Kyung-hee said.

Han asked the government and corporations for financial support, and the budget reached 2 billion won last year, more than five times in 2003, when she first joined KIWA.

Thanks to Han’s dedicated efforts, the group has increased its presence nationwide. Han created many new educational programs for physically challenged women. The organization also educated many lecturers who run invention programs for the kids of low-income families.

“I have been blessed to grow up in a rich and happy family. Now, I am satisfied that I can share what I have with the women who need it.”

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