AnnMarie Highsmith AnnMarie Highsmith
Executive Assistant Commissioner, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Office of Trade


April 25, 2023


Every year, on April 26, we celebrate creativity and innovation around the world. This year, the World Intellectual Property Organization’s (WIPO) World IP Day theme honors women inventors, creators, and entrepreneurs for their “can do” attitudes and resilience.

As we take this day to recognize the many women driving scientific breakthroughs and setting creative trends, I want to highlight the importance of women in IP and trade. I’d also like to reflect upon on the value of partnerships in the IP world to protect the rights of creators, innovators, and entrepreneurs.

As the Executive Assistant Commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), Office of Trade, I oversee a diverse portfolio encompassing the agency’s trade facilitation and enforcement mission. My work ranges from enforcing over 500 U.S. trade laws and overseeing 15 free trade agreements to directing CBP’s seven Priority Trade Issues (including intellectual property rights) with 49 partner government agencies. Since I first joined the Customs Service in 1992, one theme has remained consistent: enforcing intellectual property rights is essential to protecting the ingenuity and creativity that propels our nation forward, improving the livelihoods of everyone—and of women in particular.

“Pink Tariffs” and Trade Policies 

Indeed, while trade policies may appear to be gender-neutral, research has revealed the disparate impacts such policies have on women and men. According to a World Bank report, women disproportionally hold jobs in the clothing sector and make most clothing purchases for their families.1 Meanwhile, tariffs on garments are high compared to other manufactured goods. These “pink tariffs” create an economic disadvantage for female consumers and workers.2

The same report also found that trade and trade policies in general impact women as consumers, workers, producers/business owners, and decision makers differently. Specifically, small and medium enterprises (SMEs), which women are more likely to own and run, face more difficulties with non-tariff measures, insufficient IP protection being a top concern. More than 50 percent of SMEs find insufficient IP protection a challenge, compared to less than 10 percent of large firms.3 You can learn more about this novel research and related findings, here.

IP Rights are Women’s Rights 

So, the protection of IP rights is not only vital for economic growth—it is also a moral issue. In fact, it is enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948, which states that “everyone has the right to the protection of the moral and material interests resulting from any scientific, literary or artistic production of which he [or she] is the author.”

Too few women are participating in the IP system, which protects and adds value to their work. WIPO found that only 16 percent of patent applications filed through WIPO’s Patent Cooperation Treaty are from women. So many bright minds are going untapped; so many livelihoods are being unprotected.4

Efforts are being made across the globe to address this problem. Multiple national IP offices are rolling out initiatives encouraging the participation of women and supporting them in the journey to create a patent. Our partner government agency, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), for example, offers fee reductions and free legal assistance for the preparation of patent applications. Further, the USPTO has launched the Empowering Women’s Entrepreneurship Program, a community-focused, collaborative, and creative initiative to encourage and empower more women founders across America. (Numerous additional examples of efforts supporting women in the fields of innovation, creativity, and entrepreneurship can be found here.)

Partners in Protecting IP: Law Enforcement & Business 

And we at CBP are doing our part to protect IP rights for everyone by enforcing U.S. trade laws. As the first line of defense in protecting IP rights at the border, CBP has the authority to detain, seize, forfeit, and ultimately destroy merchandise seeking entry into the United States if it bears an infringing trademark or copyright that has been registered with the USPTO or the United States Copyright Office and has been subsequently recorded with CBP. IP holders in the United States can partner with CBP to ensure their trademarks and copyrights are enforced at the border through CBP’s e-Recordation Program.

CBP is also partnering with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to prevent the importation of counterfeit and pirated goods. Under this partnership, as outlined in a first-of-its kind Memorandum of Understanding, CBP and the Chamber are focusing on outreach, training, and information sharing.

Lastly, CBP is conducting a data sharing pilot. Currently, the pilot consists of five participants including Apple, Pfizer, Burberry, the National Basketball Association, and Major League Baseball and serves as an opportunity to establish best practices for IPR data sharing with the private sector. It also offers CBP the ability to test the viability of data sharing with major brands to better target and seize imports of counterfeit and pirated goods and other IPR violative merchandise. CBP hopes to expand the pilot in the future to include additional companies, including SMEs. Efforts like this one allow CBP to better protect IP rights-holders and consumers from the dangers of counterfeits.

When we recognize and address challenges that women innovators, creators, and entrepreneurs face and when we foster more inclusion and creativity, all of society benefits. It brings me great joy and pride that CBP, along with the Chamber, are taking on the challenges related to IP and helping unleash the ingenuity and creativity of so many women and girls around the world.

1 The World Bank (2020), Women and Trade:  The Role of Trade in Promoting Gender Equality, p. ix.


3Id., at 87-91. 

4 Aikaterini Kanellia and Lisa Jorgenson, “Together We Can:  Approaches to Empowering Women in IP,” March 2023.  

About the authors

AnnMarie Highsmith

AnnMarie Highsmith