At the Current Rate, Women Inventors Will Not Reach Parity in Patenting Until 2092

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According to new IWPR briefing paper, only 8 percent of patents have a woman as the primary inventor

The share of patents with any women inventors, 1977-2010

Supporting women inventors is a key element of a thriving innovation and entrepreneurial ecosystem in the United States.

Although women have more than quintupled their representation among patent holders since 1977, fewer than one in five of all patents had at least one woman inventor in 2010, according to a new briefing paper by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR). IWPR projects that at the current rate of progress, women inventors will not reach parity in patenting until 2092.

The briefing paper reports that women make up only 7.7 percent of primary inventors who hold patents. Women primary inventors tend to hold patents for inventions associated with traditional female roles, such as jewelry and apparel. Fields with the highest shares of any women patent holders include chemistry, organic compounds, and pharmaceuticals.

Part of the reason for women’s small share of patents is their under-representation in patent-intensive fields. In 2010, only one in five degree holders in engineering (19.1 percent) and computer science (20.9 percent) were women.

“Not only do women and people of color have unequal access to the economic rewards and fulfillment of STEM careers and inventing, but the nation is missing out on a huge swath of talent and innovation that could contribute to solving important social and scientific problems.” said IWPR Vice President and Executive Director Barbara Gault, Ph.D. “Supporting women inventors is a key element of a thriving innovation and entrepreneurial ecosystem in the United States.”

Increasing women’s patenting rate could increase their access to venture capital funding. Start-up managers report that 76 percent of venture capital investors consider patents in funding determinations. While 36.3 percent of all businesses in the United States are women-owned, only three percent of venture capital funding went to businesses with a woman CEO between 2011 and 2013.

The paper outlines several recommendations for increasing women’s patenting rates, including employer support for patenting costs for women inventors, initiatives to improve gender diversity in STEM fields, and encouragement for women inventors to cultivate industry contacts and connect with high-power networks.

Dr. Jessica Milli, the study’s lead author, noted, “We need to do a much better job of tracking and calling attention to women’s progress as patent-holders, which will involve action on the part of government, universities, private industry, and communities.”

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Jennifer Clark
@IWPResearch
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