The number of women in America obtaining patents soared in recent years, according to new research commissioned by the National Women’s Business Council.

It was at its highest level in 2010, when 22,984 patents were granted to women, a 35 percent jump over the previous year.

“An increase in patent and trademark ownership may indicate growth in women-owned companies,” NWBC Chair Donna James said.

The study, by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), examined patents granted between 1975 and 2010. It found that the top categories for women-owned patents were chemistry, bio-affecting drugs, semiconductor device manufacturing, and furnishings.

Women held 18 percent of all patents granted in 2010, compared to 14 percent in 2000 and 9 percent in 1990.

The report also examined the number of trademarks granted from 1980 and 2010 and found that the share of trademarks given to women nearly doubled. The top industries with the highest participation in trademark activity by women were advertising and business, clothing, education and entertainment.

While talk of patents and trademarks may not be the sexiest topic out there, as entrepreneurs on The Story Exchange have told us, knowing the ins and outs of both is key for women business-owners.

Melissa’s Perspective: Protecting her Intellectual Property

When Melissa Mowbray-D’Arbela started her biotech company Filligent in 2001 she knew that understanding intellectual property and therefore patents was essential. “The basis of our business model is to create IP protectable innovations – so that we create a bank of IP assets,” she said.

It helped that Melissa is a lawyer with IP experience and her co-founder is a noted inventor with extensive IP experience. Still the patent process can be daunting and preparation is critical, especially when it comes to drafting the claims, Melissa says.

“It needs to be well-written so as to be broad enough to cover as many applications and permutations as possible but not so broad that you weaken the patent’s strength, and also not so narrow that you provide a blue-print for your precise commercial formulation and manufacturing process,” she says.

She adds that patent law is arcane, but advises anyone who is applying to not be fearful of the process.
“It’s like chess – it takes a small amount of time to understand the basics and a lifetime to master – but you aren’t required to master it, just understand the basics, and the basics can take you a long way,” she says.

She advises that people educate themselves on the concepts and potential costs of patents, and talk to those who have experience. In the beginning she says the provisional application process is a good option.
“It doesn’t cost anything and it gives you a year to get to know the process,” she says. If the patent process is too expensive, she adds, consider alternatives such as maintaining the invention as a trade secret.

Julie’s Story: Protecting her Product

When Julie Pilas developed the “Catch It” animal waste collector she knew she was on to something. Having run a pet shop for 16 years in New Jersey, Pilas knew that a better pooper scooper was seriously needed and couldn’t find one, so she developed her own.

“I knew my product was unique, and I also knew that I needed a patent because once a big company got wind of it, they would steal the idea,” Julie said. She obtained a patent in 2008 and is now working with a team of investors to help bring the Catch It to market.

“If you think you have something special, don’t start showing your product until its patented or patent pending,” Pilas advises.

But if your product is patent pending, Pilas adds, you need to make sure there is no product out there that is like yours, so you are not infringing on someone else’s patent. That could land you in big legal trouble.

Pilas says all the major pet companies love her product but thanks to her patent, she is protected. And she encourages anyone applying for a patent to be patient, because it can be a long process, taking anywhere from one to three years, according to the USPTO . (Read about Julie on Your Story Exchange under Elephant Nose Pet Center)

Judi’s Drama: The Value of a Trademark

Judi Henderson-Townsend, founder of Mannequin Madness, learned why her trademark was critical, quite by accident.

In 2001, when she started her company – which sells, rents, recycles, and repairs mannequins – Judi says she never thought about the value of trademarking the name. “I was thinking we’re small, just a local business and who is really going to care? When I thought trademarking I thought large company, proprietary product,” she said.

But Judi had attended a number of women’s conferences and the importance of trademarking was a reoccurring theme. So she invested about $700 – which seemed like a lot at the time – to trademark the name of her company.

Before long, Judi’s company quickly moved beyond local and she began taking orders from clients around the US. In 2010, she began to even get international attention after Mannequin Madness won a British Airways contest for small business owners.

“We started getting a lot of publicity because we won this contest and we were getting a lot of press,” she said.

Then one day while on the web Judi discovered that three of her competitors were using the phrase “Mannequin Madness” in google ads. The ads said things like “Mannequin Madness discount prices on mannequins” or “Mannequins for sale from Mannequin Madness.”

“We had noticed that our sales had taken a dip, and we thought it was because of the economic downturn but it was because our sales were being siphoned off by some of our competitors.”

When people clicked on “Mannequin Madness” in the ads they weren’t directed to Judi’s firm, but to her competitors. Since her company name was trademarked, Judi could go directly to Google and have the ads taken down.

“Since the bulk of our sales come from the Internet, this was a big thing. It was painful and scary,” she said. After Google took down the ads, Judi says sales spiked.

“I shudder to think what would have happened if I did not trademark Mannequin Madness.”

Note: Video of Judi Henderson-Townsend’s story will be on The Story Exchange soon.

This article first appeared on The Huffington Post.