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The Gender Gap in the Patent Process

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The Gender Gap in the Patent Process

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This presentation discusses recent USPTO data regarding the gender gap and patenting. Improvements are needed to continue innovating and stay competitive on the global stage.

This presentation discusses recent USPTO data regarding the gender gap and patenting. Improvements are needed to continue innovating and stay competitive on the global stage.


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The Gender Gap in the Patent Process

  1. 1. © 2016 Klemchuk LLP Kirby B. Drake ACS National Meeting Fall 2020 1©2018 Klemchuk LLP The Gender Gap in the Patent Process
  2. 2. © 2016 Klemchuk LLP s-and-Potential.pdf • Notable differences in the number of male and female patent inventors persist. • Women inventor rates are higher in technology- intensive states, but also in states where more women participate in the overall workforce. • Women inventors are increasingly concentrated in specific technologies and types of patenting organizations. • Women are increasingly likely to patent on large, gender-mixed inventor teams. 2019 “Progress and Potential: A profile of women inventors on U.S. patents”
  3. 3. © 2016 Klemchuk LLP Women Inventor Rate Remains Below Women’s Share of Science and Engineering Jobs
  4. 4. © 2016 Klemchuk LLP Women Inventors Concentrated in Specific Technologies and Types of Assignees
  5. 5. © 2016 Klemchuk LLP Progress and potential: 2020 update on U.S. women inventor-patentees /OCE-DH-Progress-Potential-2020.pdf • Patenting by U.S.-based women grew between 2016 and 2019. • Patents with at least one woman inventor accounted for 21.9% of patents through 2019, up from 20.7% in 2016. • The women inventor rate (WIR) grew from 12.1% in 2016 to 12.8% by 2019.
  6. 6. © 2016 Klemchuk LLP
  7. 7. © 2016 Klemchuk LLP
  8. 8. © 2016 Klemchuk LLP
  9. 9. © 2016 Klemchuk LLP Women Inventor-Patentee Engagement is Improving; States Improving • The gender gap in the number of inventor patentees that stay active by patenting again is decreasing. • In 2014, 46% of women patented again within five years of their first patent (by 2019), versus 52% of men. • In 1980, the gap was 28% for women versus 38% for men.
  10. 10. © 2016 Klemchuk LLP Few Top Patent Assignees Surpass National AWIR • Among the top patenting organizations, Proctor & Gamble had highest average WIR at 29.3% for 2007-2019. • 3M Company showed largest improvement in the participation of women inventor-patentees: Their average WIR increased from 15.2% over 2007- 2016 to 16.6% for 2007-2019.
  11. 11. © 2016 Klemchuk LLP “The percentage of women inventors filing additional patents within five years of their first is on the rise. Data from the United States Patent and Trademark Office shows improvement in the patent field for women since the 1980s.” CNET–Women inventors are sticking with it, patent office says
  12. 12. © 2016 Klemchuk LLP “American women are making slow but steady progress when it comes to innovation and obtaining legal protection for their inventions, according to a new study by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. The share of patents with at least one woman named as inventor was 22% by the end of 2019, up from 20.7% in 2016, according to the study of patents with at least one U.S.- based inventor.” Bloomberg–Women Inventors Make Progress but Still Lag Male Counterparts
  13. 13. © 2016 Klemchuk LLP “USPTO welcomes ‘promising’ women inventor numbers. A new report from the US Patent and Trademark Office reveals that the participation of women in innovation is growing, earning the office praise from the legal industry.” World IP Review–USPTO welcomes ‘promising’ women inventor numbers
  14. 14. © 2016 Klemchuk LLP “To retain our nation’s edge as a global innovation leader, we need even broader participation in patenting. That’s why the USPTO has made outreach to underrepresented groups a top priority.” Andrei Iancu, Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of the USPTO
  15. 15. © 2016 Klemchuk LLP Questions? Contact Kirby Drake at: 15©2018 Klemchuk LLP

Editor's Notes

  • Hannah Wilkinson Slater is often celebrated as the first woman to receive a U.S. patent. In 1793, she received a patent for a new method of producing cotton sewing thread. She was inspired in the mills run by her husband, Samuel Slater, who had left England as a young apprentice, undeterred by a ban preventing textile craftsmen from emigrating to the United States. Interestingly, the United States issued Hannah Wilkinson Slater’s patent to “Mrs. Samuel Slater,” which has created some ambiguity regarding whether she was indeed the first American female patent inventor. Some historians prefer to award this merit to Hazel Irwin for a cheese-press invention in 1808 or to Mary Dixon Kies, who in 1809 was granted a patent on a new technique for weaving straw with silk and thread to make hats.
    All these women, without a doubt, were exceptional for their era. Only 72 U.S. patents were credited to women inventors between 1790 and 1859, while men obtained 32,362 patents. Even today, women comprise a small minority of patent inventors. This fact suggests that their innovative potential is underutilized. Recent research from Opportunity Insights, a research team based at Harvard University, shows disparities in opportunity across gender, race, and income. The researchers find that women are among the “lost Einsteins” — people who would contribute valuable inventions had they had early exposure to innovation and inventor role models. Their research suggests that harnessing underexploited talent in these groups would be valuable to spurring innovation and driving growth.
  • The U.S. patent system improves the lives of Americans by encouraging and strengthening innovation. For this system to be most effective, all Americans must have the opportunity to reap the personal and commercial benefits of applying for and receiving patent protection. In a 2019 report, “Progress and Potential: A profile of women inventors on U.S. patents,” the United States Patent and Trademark Office (referred to as the USPTO) investigated the participation of U.S.-based women inventor-patentees in the U.S. patent system. It examined the trends and characteristics of women’s participation and found that women were underrepresented. Other findings generally included:
    Notable differences in the number of male and female patent inventors persist despite greater female participation in science and engineering occupations and entrepreneurship.
    Women inventor rates are higher in technology-intensive states, but also in states where more women participate in the overall workforce.
    Women inventors are increasingly concentrated in specific technologies and types of patenting organizations, suggesting that women are specializing where female predecessors have patented rather than entering into male-dominated fields or firms.
    Women are increasingly likely to patent on large, gender-mixed inventor teams, highlighting the growing importance of understanding the relationship between gender and innovative collaboration.

    It is widely recognized that many factors shape the opportunities for women to become patent inventors. Educational and occupational choices are two important influences. Historically, science and engineering fields produce the most patentable inventions. Naturally, when fewer women pursue careers in science and engineering fields, they will make up a smaller share of patent inventors. To explore this further, Figure 2 compares the women inventor rate with the percentage of women in science and engineering occupations based on periodic national surveys. In 2015, women made up about 28% of the total science and engineering workforce (all S&E occupations in Figure 2) but only 12% of inventors on granted patents (women inventor rate in Figure 2). Across nearly all science occupations, women participate at a much higher rate than they invent patented technology. It is only in engineering that women’s workforce participation rate (yellow, hollow circle line in Figure 2) resembles the overall women inventor rate.

    The figure on this slide presents the women inventor rate across broad technology categories for each of the past four decades. Although the female share of patent inventors has increased over time in each sector (moving from left to right), there is considerable variation in growth patterns. Women’s inventive participation has improved the most in chemistry and design patents. While women accounted for only 6% of inventors on chemistry patents issued 1977–1986, they comprised roughly 18% in the last decade (2007–2016). Within chemistry, certain subcategories exhibit even higher women inventor rates. In 2016, for example, women accounted for more than one-fifth of inventors granted patents in biotechnology (25% women inventor rate), pharmaceuticals (23%), and organic fine chemistry (21%). Women’s participation on patents in instruments and electrical engineering has also improved but to a lesser extent. Women comprised only 12% and 11% of inventors on patents in instruments and electrical engineering, respectively, in the 2007–2016 decade. Among mechanical engineering patents, where inventors are the most disproportionately male, there has been the slowest improvement in women’s participation. The female share of inventors on such patents was 3% in the 1977– 1986 decade and only reached 8% in the last decade observed.
  • I will focus on the update on US women inventor patentees just released in early July 2020. This update improves our understanding of women’s participation as inventor-patentees in two ways. First, it updates the findings from the 2019 report using three years of new data, covering January 2017 through December 2019. Second, it provides an analysis of entry by women into the patent system. In particular, it looks at the number and share of new women inventor-patentees and the degree to which those women remain active by patenting again within the next five years. The updates in this report rely heavily on PatentsView—a free, online platform for visualizing, disseminating, and promoting a better understanding of U.S. patent data supported by the USPTO’s Office of the Chief Economist.
    There has been continued improvement in the participation of women inventor-patentees. The participation of U.S.-based women in the U.S. patent system can be evaluated using two indicators.
    The first is the share of patents that include at least one woman inventor. This indicator counts patents and provides an “output” perspective on participation, but it is also influenced by other factors, such as the gender composition of inventor-patentee teams and the total number of patents those teams produce.
    The second indicator—called the women inventor rate (WIR)—calculates the share of women among all inventor-patentees in a given period of time. The WIR indicates the proportion of unique women who are engaged in the patent system and provides an “input” perspective on participation. Unlike the first indicator, the WIR is independent of team gender composition and team production because it identifies the number of unique women inventors within a given time period.
  • Both indicators have improved substantially since 1976 (Figure 1). The share of patents with at least one woman inventor grew from 20.7% in 2016 to 21.9% by the end of 2019 and is growing faster than in the prior period. Observing faster growth in patent output is certainly positive, but it is unclear whether this trend reflects the contributions of women inventor-patentees because the dominant share of this output comes from mixed-gender teams. The WIR improved from 12.1% in 2016 to 12.8% by 2019. This shows that more women are active as inventor-patentees. However, a WIR of 12.8% is substantially lower than other benchmarks of women’s education and employment as scientists and engineers. In 2017, women held about 2 million science and engineering jobs, but only 27,000 women were inventor-patentees in that year. The share of male science and engineering job holders who are inventor-patentees was three times higher. These data suggest that expanding the pipeline through education and science and engineering jobs, while necessary, is not sufficient to increase the participation of women as inventor-patentees.
  • More women are entering and staying active in the patent system. Bringing new women into the patent system is one of the most important channels for expanding women’s participation as inventor-patentees. This report extends the scope of the USPTO’s 2019 report by shedding light on the flow of new U.S.-based inventors into the patent system. In 1980, there were approximately 44,550 unique inventor-patentees. This number grew to about 241,800 by 2019. During that same period, the share of new inventor-patentees among this group fell (the purple area in Figure 2). To some degree, this downward trend is expected, given that the number of inventor-patentees who patented again increased over time relative to the entry of new inventor-patentees. However, after growing at an average rate of 9.6% from 2009 to 2014, the number of new inventor-patentees grew at just 2.7% per year (on average) from 2014 to 2019. In 2019, there were about 69,080 new inventor-patentees. Similar to the trend in the WIR, the share of women among all new inventor-patentees increased from about 5% in 1980 to 17.3% by the end of 2019 (the blue area in Figure 2). In the five-year period from 2009 to 2014, the number of new women inventor-patentees grew by an average of 10.8% each year. In the next five years ending in 2019, this growth slackened to 4% per year. Nevertheless, a 4% annual growth in the number of new women inventor-patentees is notably higher than the growth observed for new men inventor-patentees, which was 2.5% from 2014 through 2019. From 2014 to 2019, the average number of new women inventor-patentees per year was about 10,340.
  • Another aspect that characterizes participation as inventor-patentees is whether they stay active in or drop out of the patent system. One form of staying active is to patent multiple inventions over time. For this report, engagement is measured for each new inventor-patentee by assessing whether that person obtained at least one more granted patent in the five years following his or her first patent. For groups of new inventor-patentees from 1980 through 2014, Figure 3 shows the percentage who remained active in the patent system within the next five years. For instance, of the group of new men inventor-patentees in 1980, about 38% of those individuals stayed active by patenting again within the next five years. This percentage rose over time. For new men inventor-patentees in 2014, about 52% remained active.
  • The results for women inventor-patentees indicate that women are less continuously engaged in the patent system as inventors, but that engagement is improving over time. For the 1980 group of new women inventor-patentees, about 28% remained active within the next five years. By 2014, this percentage increased to nearly 46%. Although the factors driving these trends are not yet known, women inventor-patentees are decreasing the gender gap in the number of active inventor-patentees in the patent system.

    The U.S. and most states show an improved AWIR. For the nation, women’s participation as inventor-patentees improved. The average women inventor rate (AWIR) for 2007-2019 was 14.2%, up from 13.6% for 2007-2016. However, national-level improvements in AWIR do not reveal state level variation in women’s participation (Figure 4). A strong national AWIR could be driven by a handful of states, potentially masking important differences in the geography of women’s participation.
    The USPTO’s 2019 report revealed a more than 10 percentage point difference between the highest and lowest state AWIRs (Delaware 18.3%; North Dakota 8.2%). In that same time period, about 42% of all U.S.-based women inventor-patentees were located in four states: California, Massachusetts, New York, and Texas. Three states had fewer than 50 women inventor-patentees (Wyoming, North Dakota, and Alaska), four states had between 50 and 100, and 18 states plus the District of Columbia had between 101 and 500 women inventor-patentees.
    With the updated data used in this report (2017–2019), the range of AWIR values across states increased slightly to 11%, underlining how geographic location shapes opportunities differentially for women to become inventor-patentees. Among the four states with the most women inventor-patentees, Texas is the only one ranked below the national AWIR of 14.2%.
    Forty-five states and the District of Columbia improved their AWIRs for 2007-2019 relative to 2007-2016. Wyoming showed the largest improvement, rising from 9.6% to 11.2%. This is an increase of 1.6 percentage points. However, because Wyoming has a small number of inventor-patentees, this change represents a relatively small increase in the absolute number of women inventor-patentees. The AWIRs for 15 states increased between 0.001 and 0.500 percentage points, while 30 states plus the District of Columbia improved between 0.501 and 1.500 percentage points. Alaska, Hawaii, North Dakota, Alabama, and Mississippi all experienced small reductions in their AWIRs.
  • Few top patent assignees surpass the national AWIR. Due to the volume of annual patent filings, the organizations that are the top patent assignees have a disproportionate influence on women’s participation in the U.S. patent system.11 For the 29 top assignees, only 11 had AWIRs above the 14.2% national AWIR. Continuing a long-running trend, Procter & Gamble led the group with over 29%.
    The three companies with the highest AWIR values produce diversified healthcare products and pharmaceuticals, which is consistent with the concentration of women in chemistry, biology, and related STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) fields and jobs. In contrast, women make up the smallest share of inventor-patentees at companies more focused on electrical and mechanical engineering technologies, such as Deere & Co. (5%), Caterpillar (6%), and Analog Devices (7%).
    3M Company showed the largest gain in women’s participation, rising by 1.4 percentage points to 15.2% in 2007-2019. The increase for Procter & Gamble, which is first in the AWIR rankings, was about half as large (0.59 percentage points). The AWIR values for 9 of the top 29 assignees listed in Figure 6 increased by more than 1 percentage point, and 18 others exhibited some improvement. AWIR values were flat or slightly down for Qualcomm and AT&T.
  • In conclusion, the data indicate that we are moving in the right direction in terms of closing the gender gap when it comes to patenting. However, changes are still needed to stem the flow of the leaky pipeline of women inventors, fill the pipeline with new inventors, and create an inclusive culture where the contributions of women inventors are sought after and valued. Such improvements are necessary for the US to continue innovating and stay competitive on the global stage.