USPTO Report: Only Four Percent of Patents Name Women-Only Inventors Over the Last Decade

By Eileen McDermott
February 13, 2019

“According to the report, ‘In the last decade….the growth in women inventorship, as measured by the share of patents with at least one female inventor, is almost entirely due to women’s participation on gender-mixed teams.'”

https://depositphotos.com/81621558/stock-photo-school-girls-working-with-a.htmlThe United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) released a report on Monday that paints a rather dire picture for women inventors. The report, “Progress and Potential: A profile of women inventors on U.S. patents,” outlines trends in women inventors named on U.S. patents from 1976 to 2016.

As of 2016, 21% of U.S. patents included at least one female inventor. In the 1980s, it was 7%. The picture is much worse, however, when considering patents where the only inventor is female, or where a group of all women are named. According to the report, “In the last decade, all-female invented patents constituted only about 4% of issued patents. Accordingly, the growth in women inventorship, as measured by the share of patents with at least one female inventor, is almost entirely due to women’s participation on gender-mixed teams.”

Engineering is the only field in which women’s workforce participation rate resembles the overall women inventor rate. Women made up only 12% and 11% of inventors on patents in instruments and electrical engineering, respectively, in the 2007–2016 decade and only about 14% of the engineering workforce as of 2015. In contrast, women made up about 48% of biological and life scientists as of 2015, but only about 25% of inventors on biotechnology patents and 23% of inventors on pharmaceutical patents.

While Director Andrei Iancu said in a statement that the USPTO is committed to helping to change these statistics, the report offers little in the way of solutions—and it’s not clear that there are any.

When I interviewed Elizabeth English, Head of School at the Archer School for Girls in Brentwood, California, several years ago, she linked the disconnect to a lack of representation. The Archer School for Girls emphasizes STEM education and experiential learning. At the time of the interview, English said that about 29% of Archer students were going into STEM fields, compared to 2% of girls attending co-ed schools nationally. She offered this view on the problem:

We see more women majoring in STEM fields, but they continue to drop out at a very high rate. A lot of these colleges and universities will brag that 40% of their freshman class in the school of engineering are women, but ask them what percentage graduate—it’s heartbreaking. I think what’s happening is that colleges and universities first of all have very few female professors. Women walk into classrooms that are predominantly male and then the professor is also a man. That can be very intimidating and discouraging. But we also don’t teach engineering in an inquiry-based way in college. We deliberately teach courses that are designed to “weed people out,” and girls are much harder on themselves than boys. I think we’re teaching it backwards.

Representation matters. Hopefully, as companies begin to increasingly insist on diversity, schools will consider alternatives to help combat these dismal statistics:

WOMEN ARE UNDERREPRESENTED THROUGHOUT THE INNOVATION PIPELINE

Women earn 57 percent of all four-year degrees, but only 35 percent of STEM bachelor’s degrees. Following degree completion, they account for just 22 percent of the STEM workforce.

– “Charts of the week: Advancing women and girls in science,” Chris McKenna, Brookings Now

On the brighter side, the USPTO report represents a first step in at least quantifying the challenge. The Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR) in 2016 recommended that the USPTO begin developing tools to better track women’s progress in patenting. At the time of publishing this article, the USPTO had not replied to a request for comment regarding future plans for tracking this data, or future reports, but Director Iancu spoke briefly about the report yesterday at the Inventing America Conference, and, while solutions do not seem easy, it sounds as if the USPTO will continue to review this issue and seek answers. IPWatchdog will be monitoring and providing updates on this important topic.

Image Source: Deposit Photos
Image ID: 81621558
Copyright: stockyimages 

The Author

Eileen McDermott

Eileen McDermott is the Editor-in-Chief of IPWatchdog.com. Eileen is a veteran IP and legal journalist, and no stranger to the intellectual property world, having held editorial and managerial positions at several publications and industry organizations. She has acted as editorial consultant for the International Trademark Association (INTA), chiefly overseeing the editorial process for the Association’s twice-monthly newsletter, the INTA Bulletin. Eileen has also served as a freelance editor for the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO); as senior consulting editor for the Intellectual Property Owners Association (IPO) from 2015 to 2017; as Managing Editor and Editor-in-Chief at INTA from 2013 to 2016; and was Americas Editor for Managing Intellectual Property magazine from 2007 to 2013.

Warning & Disclaimer: The pages, articles and comments on IPWatchdog.com do not constitute legal advice, nor do they create any attorney-client relationship. The articles published express the personal opinion and views of the author and should not be attributed to the author’s employer, clients or the sponsors of IPWatchdog.com. Read more.

Discuss this

There are currently 17 Comments comments.

  1. Benny February 14, 2019 6:01 am

    “As of 2016, 21% of U.S. patents included at least one female inventor”
    I dispute the accuracy of that figure.
    A significant portion of US patents are granted to foreign applicants or inventors. The inventor’s gender is not listed on the declaration, and reliance on guessing a foreign-born inventor’s gender based on their name is liable to go the wrong way. For example, tell me how many female inventors are listed on US9941898, if any ?

  2. Kay February 14, 2019 7:23 am

    Okay, anecdotally this is a bit interesting but it is framed as a problem, and as a woman
    I am not sure why this even matters. The patent system is a mertitocracy, we do not need affirmative action patent grants.

    Frankly, choosing to look at differences in gender is arbitrary. How about patents granted per zip code? There are sure to be differences that pique interest too.

    I have worked with female inventors. The primary reason they fail to get patents is they give up. Female inventors tell me they don’t want to waste money and so talk themselves out of the patent. Whether the problem is truly unaffordability or something else I don’t know. Given that the first office action is usually rejections of all claims, male inventors push to get their patents but females tell me to abandon. Should I refuse? Because I know if she’d let me, I could get the allowance. But she doesn’t want to pay for it. Again, is the female inventor not allowed to choose? Or am i supposed to pro bono all these cases?

  3. B February 14, 2019 9:08 am

    I have drafted no less than 400 patent applications. Number of female inventors total is less than ten and none of those were American.

  4. LLDC February 14, 2019 9:17 am

    I guess that’s Obama’s fault.

  5. Benny February 14, 2019 9:54 am

    B,
    You should be asking yourself why you attract misogynist clients…

  6. B February 14, 2019 10:13 am

    @ Benny

    Sure, I’ll ask my clients why their misogynists.

  7. Eileen McDermott February 14, 2019 10:39 am

    Benny – the report’s methodology addresses this in detail.

  8. Benny February 14, 2019 11:12 am

    Eileen,
    I had to download and read the report, with its condescending pink cover page, to understand the methodology. Bottom line, there is up to 7% error rate in assigning gender to inventors. The example I presented (US9941898) is interesting because 3 of named inventors have gender-neutral names (two of them correspond about 2/3 to a particular gender). I was able to ascertain from Linkedin that at least one of the named inventors is female.
    How did I pick up that example so easily? Simple – start with a multinational corporation known as a major patent filer which has an R&D center in a country where gender neutral names are not uncommon, then pick one or two fairly common local gender neutral names, hit the search button, and bingo on the first try.

  9. Night Writer February 14, 2019 1:30 pm

    In my practice working with large corporations I don’t see much difference in working with women and men. Seems like the woman in the teams are responsible for the patents about as often as the men. Seems like it is balanced according to what teams are working.

  10. Josh Malone February 14, 2019 2:37 pm

    My hypothesis is that women inventors are smarter than men inventors and therefore less likely to fall for the patent scam. I can prove to most men inventors that a patent does not give them exclusive rights to their invention (Ebay), that a patent is not a property right (Oil States), and that the USPTO will revoke their patent if a big corporation wants it (AIA). These men will then proceed to give thousands of dollars to their attorney and the PTO for a patent they know is fake. This is simply another case study proving that men are stupid.

  11. JPM February 14, 2019 11:58 pm

    @10 Josh, unfortunately, I agree with your hypothesis.

  12. ChrisW February 15, 2019 7:55 pm

    Gentlemen, gentlemen, the answer is easy. A simple $1000 surcharge of filing fees on applications that do not include at least one inventor that is not the same “birth character” (formerly called gender) as the other named inventors. No, make that $5000. Totally fixes it, no ?

  13. Benny February 16, 2019 3:02 am

    Chris,
    Not even funny. I’ve got a better idea. Teach your children not to blindly accept gender stereotypes, and to respect women as their equals. And keep them well away from educators who foster inequality (cough cough organized reli cough gion )

  14. Chrisw February 16, 2019 7:14 am

    I think one must be careful and ask what the numbers really mean. We know most patents are never commercialized or re-coup even the filing fees in terms of revenue. So, maybe it is the case that women inventors are more judicious about their filings. Maybe males are prone to run off and make as many filings as they can, without contemplating commercial ability. Or maybe women have a knack for coming up with trade-secret material, that the legal dept. recognizes its best to not file a patent on. Maybe there’s fewer female named as inventor, but their inventions are better and they’re commercialized more. Maybe females are managing the males who are filing these cases and are too busy doing admin work to be bothered with doing lowly bench work. There’s always more to the picture and quick conclusions are often incorrect.

    Perhaps the true stereotype should be that men file too many cases. Reducing their filings by 92% should level matters somewhat if only looking at numbers without thinking what they really mean.

    There is no equality in nature, even all snowflakes are different. If people were truly equal, there’d be no need for any government, think about that one.

    Meantime, one of my favorite contributions is US Patent 4,692,412 , esp. col. 3, lines 9-12, et seq. That lady was smarter than the last score of MD’s I’ve met.

  15. Anon February 16, 2019 12:29 pm

    ChrisW,

    “Equal” and “Exact” are subtlety different concepts.

  16. ChrisW February 16, 2019 8:18 pm

    Equal is great for math, it is identity. 1=1, right ? But with people, certain statistician types entertain themselves by defining the “average person”, “average lawyer”, “average income”, etc. Math can be fun. Applying math games to people doesn’t fly, for otherwise 49.999 % of everybody is below “average”, and same number of above average folk. Its meaningless. Recall Edison’s schoolmaster said he’d never make it, was a poor student. By motherly love, she home-schooled him, and he probably wasnt drinking fluoridated water, 750 chemicals in his lunch and glyphosate hadn’t yet been invented. From what I’ve gathered, the main contributors are that sliver of the populace with an IQ above 150, and at that level gender is essentially irrelevant also. The Nations which have historically done best in terms of science are those having the most in that sliver relative to other Nations, but its not exclusive of any Nation, just a number thing, according to my limited reading. I’ve been lucky to have met some truly mentally gifted women, all grew up on a farm, not eating chemically-tainted foods, fwiw.

    If Bundy kidnaps Einstein and Capone and puts them in two identical cells in Bundy’s basement, feeds them only bacon, eggs and asparagus for 30 years, are they equal ? In some sense yes, but innately they’re not equal because at least, if released, they’d both go different directions. Pretend that you judge people and you judge one to be a 3 in your scheme, and the other to be a 4. How can you make 3=4 ? Two ways, first is to add to the 3, second way is to subtract from the 4.
    Desired result 3=4
    option A 3+1 = 4
    option B 3 = 4-1

    The socialism we’re seeing with all the nonsense in the media that most people don’t pay attention to, is option B, its easier to take from 4 than it is to add to 3 if one is an admin who contributes nothing. That’s what , in my view, all these emotional number crunching are about, their answer is always to subtract from the “haves” and give to the “have nots” instead of elevating the have-nots. That’s what the Alice/Mayo , Section 101 fiasco is about, tearing down the 1952 Act, subtracting from the 4’s. It gives nothing to the 3’s. And each little meaningless statistic about the number of X-class of inventors filing only Y % of patent applications, only adds division. Bit by bit, these little chippings when taken in toto, equate or are exactly what is needed to make sure that Einstein and Capone, are or become “equal” in some sense.

    The point of all this ? I don’t know, some dips#*(& in the past in my house was installing baseboard moulding and drove a nail thru a copper pipe. I took pleasure in not hiring a plumber and brazed it, only to find that the dips@)#* drove it all the way thru and I’m confounded to get to the backside to seal it. ugh. The point of all this is, to go slow and you will figure out the problem, there is nothing new under the sun was in the bible a long time ago and I believe it. The tactics used to divide us, and confuse our good laws are nothing new, and the answers are already out there. I think loving ones neighbor as ones-self is an essential first step. There’s a lot of good Judges in the Federal Circuit, they need our good support, and prayer.

  17. Anon February 16, 2019 11:55 pm

    That’s nice ChrisW,,

    Maybe next time remember all of that before you post something inane in relation to patent law.

    (But I do like the apparent expanse of your viewpoints — it makes a nice meander possible across nearly any topic possible, while seemingly saying something important and actually saying nothing at all)