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UK Intellectual Property Office Publishes Study on Trends in Female Inventorship

Reports Patent

Intellectual Property Office (U.K.), Gender Profiles in Worldwide Patenting: An Analysis of Female Inventorship (2019).

On October 2, 2019, the UK Intellectual Property Office (“IPO”) published Gender profiles in worldwide patenting. The report analyzes trends in worldwide female inventorship over a twenty year period (1998–2017) using data from the European Patent Office Worldwide Patent Statistical Database. The IPO found that the percentage of female inventors worldwide rose from 6.8% to 12.7% during the time period analyzed and that the percentage of patent applications that name at least one woman rose from 12% to 21%.

The data reflects significant improvements over the past two decades, and even greater improvements over the past century. From 1915 through 1975, women made up less than 4% of the named patent filers for any one year. The near-doubling of female inventors (from 6.8% to 12.7%) between 1998 and 2017 represents a greater increase than that which occurred over the prior 30 years combined (from 1965 to 1998, the percentage of female inventorship increased from roughly 3% to 6.8%). The growth of female inventorship over the past two decades reflects an increase in women entering the STEM fields. According to Penny Gilbert, a partner at intellectual property law firm Powell & Gilbert, “If we want to see more women filing patents, then we need to see more women taking up [STEM] subjects at university and going on to careers in research.”

The changes reported by the IPO are not consistent across the board: the rate of change of female inventorship ratios vary by country and specific technology area. In France, for example, the share of patent applications that name at least one woman was already at 16% in 1998 but has stagnated since then. China, on the other hand, saw an increase in female inventorship from roughly 10% in 1998 to over 14% in 2017. At the technology-area level, female inventors have the most prominent role in biotechnology, pharmaceuticals, and organic chemistry, where approximately half of the patent applications filed during the study period named at least one woman.

These figures, while encouraging, obscure the continuing gender disparities in inventorship. In 2017, 69% of new patent applications were filed by sole male inventors or teams comprised entirely of men, whereas only 6% of applications were from sole female inventors and 0.3% from all-female teams. 25% of patent applications were filed by teams that listed at least one woman and at least one man. Additionally, the percentage of female inventors is lower in industry than in academia. Women made up just over 20% of academic-affiliated inventors in 2017, but just under 10% of corporate-affiliated inventors—a gap consistent with the ratios’ starting points in 1998.

The remaining gap between male and female inventorship reflects the work remaining for governments and NGOs. At current growth rates, parity will not be achieved until 2070. As IPO CEO Tim Moss stated, “While it is great to see the trend improving there is still a long way to go. We must work harder to tackle the root causes of the difference and increase efforts to encourage and inspire more women to innovate, invent, design, create, and then maximise their commercial value through the IP system.”