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Health Tools Aimed At Women’s Health

Written by Clare Gibson, Senior Patent Analyst, writing on behalf of PatWorld, UK 


"FemTech" is a relatively recent term coined in 2016 by the Danish entrepreneur Ida Tin, creator of the period and menstruation tracking app "Clue", where the term is now synonymous with technology focused on women's health. Such technology often includes software, diagnostics, products and services, with a large proportion holding female reproductive health at its core. For example, fertility solutions, menstruation tracking apps, pregnancy care, nursing care, sexual wellness, contraception, and general reproductive health care are a few areas where FemTech operates. 


Whilst many people may associate FemTech with mobile apps, FemTech is not limited to such. It’s an umbrella term that additionally encompasses any digital or standard health tool aimed at women’s health. Examples include wearable tech, internet-connected medical devices, hygiene products, such as the digital tampon, relationship advice organisations, sexual pleasure and advice tools, menopausal services which may offer advice, suggestions for managing menopausal symptoms, and even may help identify peri-menopause in women. In addition, FemTech provides services to enable females to up-skill within their careers and many other products. 


Despite the FemTech term being a relatively recent term, there has been a focus and wide range of applications of technology for female health preceding the origins of the term; For instance, smear testing for cervical cancer over regular intervals of a period of time, mammograms for breast cancer screening, the introduction of ultrasounds applicable to pregnancy care which once were not available, online communities specifically centred around females, mothers, relationships, and even in-home testing such as home pregnancy testing, home ovulation tests, along with IVF and options to freeze eggs and systems and methods focusing on female mental health and well-being. All of these over recent history have highlighted the need for innovation, development, refinement and increasing availability of standard health tools available to females. 


However, when most think of FemTech, digitalised software and mobile apps first come to mind. Organisations such as Apple Health and Fitbit provide a free Period Cycle Tracking app as a standard offering via their devices. If you visit an app store such as the Apple App store or Android’s Google Play store, a vast offering of female health apps can be discovered, some free and some with in-app purchases and/or paid subscription options. 


The Aim & Benefits of FemTech 


The ultimate aim of FemTech is to reduce disparities within health care to provide unbiased care by providing technology and female health insights via a “female lens” to help make the lives of females just a little bit easier. 

One benefit of FemTech is its ability to potentially reduce healthcare costs females may encounter, such as enabling a female to track and/or get specific female health medical advice in an app used at home, often offering consultation features rather than having to access government or private health care services in person. Essentially FemTech assists in broadening access to much needed gender specific health tools, where some FemTech apps offer bespoke programmes and/or recommendations. 


Other benefits of FemTech include the availability of anonymity, which may open up information and advice to females who, for whatever reasons, may feel unable to speak in person with a healthcare provider or may even be unable to access such healthcare in the first place. FemTech, which offers advice, articles, and even online communities, provide tools to discuss health issues/concerns with others. Ultimately, it can aid to normalise such conversations, which were once considered taboo and may even occasionally offer reassurance to individuals who may be experiencing something they feel concerned/alarmed over, but in actuality, could discover may be a common experience and/or symptom many other females may experience. Changing the narrative from a taboo conversation to an everyday style conversation can in itself prove to be beneficial. 


The normalisation, move from taboo, is being seen via the availability of app-based FemTech downloaded by consumers. One of the main factors in app-based FemTech is collecting and storing an individual’s data, which, collected over time, helps provide individuals with insights into their health. In contrast, medical professionals could use such data in certain situations to help make diagnoses. For example, Endometriosis is often underdiagnosed, where doctors may overlook symptoms and dismiss them as "standard period pains". However, data collection over a period of time could be crucial/beneficial to highlight a potential Endometriosis diagnosis which would effectively result in improved management of such a condition, leading to a relatively better lifestyle for a female with such a condition; diagnosis helps for correct treatment and management of any condition. 


Ultimately FemTech can empower women by improving standards of care and by increasing the educational values of such knowledge. It provides women with a means to control their bodies, especially in situations where human rights may not be the same as in Western civilisation, a right to their own medical health. The applications of such tech could be limitless. 


Privacy Concerns 


However, there are concerns to consider. Privacy of data collection is a primary concern. Minor concerns could include social media sites such as Facebook and companies such as Google, where fertility tracking apps share data with such organisations. Facebook, for example, or Meta as it's now called used such data to target advertising to females based on where an individual was in their menstrual cycle - which clearly raises many ethical concerns. 

On the other hand, it raises a potential positive question surrounding the use of “big data”. For instance, female health data in terms of analysis for potential cross-examination into the data in terms of other illnesses. Heart Attacks are a leading killer for females. Is there a link between female health data and heart attack percentile factors? 


Larger concerns about the “big data" captured by the FemTech industry via apps can be highlighted by considering the recent overruling of the historic Roe. V. Wade 1973 landmark decision. Where as a result of this overturning, in some states of the United States, abortions have been made illegal. Concerns are being raised by users of FemTech apps, such as period tracking and contraception apps, in regard to the use of such data by government bodies to potentially prosecute women who elect to have an abortion in another US state. Such concerns are resulting in some women ditching the use of such apps, along with also potentially disparaging investors, when there are clearly still some aspects of data collection and privacy laws that need to be addressed within the FemTech industry, raising the need for a regulatory framework relating to the privacy of such data by its users.  


Investment Concerns 


Investment can also be a concern with FemTech. There may be a bias in terms of investors not investing in apps central to female health, even though women account for approximately 50% of the population. 

And there may be a bias in terms of male consumers, who may never look into such apps, when potentially the apps may be helpful to themselves as well, i.e. a mental health app targeting women could offer some advice to a male for his own use or to help understand his female counterparts current state of mental well-being. Or even the male utilisation of a pregnancy tracking app which may help explain or help to understand stages of a child's growth. 


A Need for Diversity & Inclusion 


Another issue to consider with FemTech is the female-centric aspect. Whilst empowering and certainly a step in the right direction for female health, such tech entrepreneurs may very well have the technology to develop technology applicable to males or to be unisex and even to cover non-binary genders; if technology is available to help, then there should be a diversity and inclusion in such technology to enable access to all genders. For example, there are FemTech platforms which are creating products and AI to begin home screening of breast cancer; where one creator has an app which images breasts over a period of time to help identify any changes in the breast tissue, which can be a vital tool used to prompt a healthcare appointment for a potential early diagnosis of breast cancer. As we know, an early cancer diagnosis can be the difference between life and death in certain situations. So, if there is such technology being created in the FemTech industry, then could this be broadened and translatable to a similar screening of in-home testicular cancer, where the onus is not solely on a "Self-Exam" but is backed by imagery and potential deeper tissue imagery, all via the use of a smartphones built-in camera? 


Another issue to consider with FemTech is that it is generally centric on the internet, smartphones, smart devices etc. So, how does fem-tech plan to utilise the complete 50% of the population, where poverty, human rights issues, and access to the internet may be limited or even non-existent? How do such companies plan to make their technology accessible to every female, accounting for approximately 50% of the population? 


FemTech Through an IP Lens 


If we look at FemTech through an IP lens, there are various routes to take, as FemTech is a broad umbrella term covering a range of services, products, apps, devices etc. 


We can see advancements from what appears to be the first breast pump in 1854, US11135, to an enhanced electric breast pump in 2014, US2014378895, and what appears to be the first tampon in 1931, US1926900, to biodegradable water-soluble tampons, US20130281912, and even the more recent cell-phone based digital tampon monitoring system, US20120040655. 


And we are seeing this type of innovation increase. Elvive, a FemTech organisation, offer a hands-free, smart breast pump which works alongside a mobile app, which allows women to roam freely [1]. 

Natural Cycles are an organisation offering mobile app-based FemTech to provide digital contraception, removing the need for hormone-based contraception, which has received some criticism; it has also won awards, such as Healthline’s Best Birth Control App in 2021[2]. 


And as mentioned previously, FemTech covers such a broad aspect of female health, ranging from wearables, mobile apps, reproductive health, mental well-being, relationship and sexual advice, and the list goes on. IP analysis of such a field requires a bespoke and tailored approach to avoid a generic overview which may potentially miss relevant information. 


Suppose we were to limit to a particular area, such as A61B10/0012, Ovulation-period determination, along with A61B5/4306*, for evaluating the female reproductive systems, e.g. gynaecological evaluations, over the past 12 years. In that case, we can see in the below chart, figure 1, a notable spike in applications between 2016 and 2021. The data for 2022 shown in the chart may not be complete due to the 18-month delay in the publication cycle. 


Chart, bar chart, histogram

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Figure 1: Applications in Ovulation and female reproductive health Patents (Created using PatWorld) 



This spike shows there is activity within the fields of ovulation tracking and female reproductive health; where albeit all of that activity may not be mobile-app specific, the notable significant increase in activity does highlight it is an area of female health which is seeing a rise in IP, which could very well be a result of the recent “FemTech” movement. 


Despite FemTech having notable concerns, especially about privacy and the sharing of collected data, which could essentially be refined and even regulated, FemTech offers significant advantages. It raises and normalises conversations and female health topics that were once considered taboo. Additionally, it offers women the opportunity to feel in control and empowers them to feel more "equipped" with additional knowledge regarding their own health, notably reproductive health. Moreover, whilst FemTech aims to provide better insights into an area of health, offering female health solutions often created by females themselves, considerations by such creators should be made to see if they can incorporate their technology into potentially male-specific health. 



Do you have an idea for a new invention for FemTech? Here at PatWorld, we conduct a variety of searches using our in-house developed IP database, PatWorld, along with other tools, where experienced analysts and management teams can arrange discussions to tailor a bespoke quote, conduct a variety of searches for a client's needs ranging from toe-in-the-water searches to infringement clearances and mapping searches, and provide a concise analysis of any given field, including specific FemTech industries. 







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