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Male Inventors are Three Times More Likely to Apply for Patents than Women

Report finds that under-representation in patent-intensive STEM fields, smaller networks contribute to the gender gap in innovation

A new report from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR) finds that, between 2000 and 2016, the number of patent applications with a man listed as the primary inventor was more than triple the number of applications with a woman listed first, but applications filed by women and men primary inventors were accepted at similar rates (67 and 73 percent, respectively).
Male Inventors are Three Times More Likely to Apply for Patents than Women

New report on the gender gap in innovation

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Dec 01, 2016

Washington, DC—A new report from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR) finds that, between 2000 and 2016, the number of patent applications with a man listed as the primary inventor was more than triple the number of applications with a woman listed first, but applications filed by women and men primary inventors were accepted at similar rates (67 and 73 percent, respectively). Because men are much more likely than women to apply for patents, male inventors are the vast majority of patent-holders: fewer than one in five of all patents have at least one woman inventor.

At the current rate of progress, IWPR projects that women inventors will not reach parity in patenting until 2092. Among women with at least a bachelor’s degree, Asian/Pacific Islander women are among the most likely to have applied for a patent in the past five years (0.9 percent), while White and Hispanic women are among the least likely (0.3 percent). Women across all races/ethnicities face a wide gender patenting gap: Application rates for white men are nine times higher than those of white women (2.7 percent compared with 0.3 percent), whereas Hispanic and Asian/Pacific Islander men have application rates that are five times higher than Hispanic and Asian/Pacific Islander women, respectively, and Black men have rates that are only 2.6 times higher than Black women.

“In the years ahead, we will need to tap the brainpower of top innovators around the world to meet persistent and emerging challenges, such as climate change, cyber security, the need to modernize public benefits access, and much more,” said IWPR Vice President and Executive Director Barbara Gault, Ph.D. “Diversity in innovation is essential to social progress.”

The report, Equity in Innovation: Women Inventors and Patents, finds that part of the reason for women’s small share of patents is their underrepresentation in patent-intensive fields. Women primary inventors tend to hold patents for inventions associated with traditional female roles, such as personal goods, jewelry, and apparel. Even in these patent classes, women still represent only about a quarter of primary inventors.

Increasing women’s patenting rates could increase female entrepreneurs’ access to venture capital funding. Start-up managers report that 76 percent of venture capital investors consider patents in funding determinations. In addition, research finds that having a patent is important to securing funding from other sources, including friends and family, commercial banks, angel investors, and other companies, as well as investment banks.

The report outlines several recommendations to make patenting more accessible to women, including developing systems and data tools to better track women’s patenting activity; fostering networks for women inventors and entrepreneurs; making the patenting process more transparent; making more concerted efforts to get more women and girls into STEM education; and encouraging a more equitable division of responsibility for family care and providing better access to affordable child care, as well as paid family leave for both mothers and fathers.

“Research shows that women’s underrepresentation in patent-intensive STEM fields is a major contributor to the gender patenting gap,” said IWPR Study Director Jessica Milli, Ph.D. “Continuing to encourage more women to enter and remain in these fields could promote further progress, but larger cultural and institutional shifts are needed to accelerate that progress.”

The Institute for Women's Policy Research (IWPR) is a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization that conducts rigorous research and disseminates its findings to address the needs of women and their families, promote public dialogue, and strengthen communities and societies.

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