By Michelle Chen
Unless women are somehow only 25 percent as creative as men these days, we have a big problem with our so-called “innovation age.” In one clear measure of who takes the credit for scientific inventions, male inventors dominate about four in five patents originating in the United States.
Granted, the gender gap in American inventorship has narrowed slowly over time. Over the past 40 years, the presence of women among teams of successful patent creators has ticked up steadily, according to an analysis by the Institute for Women’s Policy and Research (IWPR) (supported with funding from Qualcomm). From 1977 to 2010, the share of patents originated by women inventors has quintupled; nonetheless, in 2010, just “fewer than 20 percent of all patents had at least one woman inventor.” This male dominance, of course, reflects patterns in other elite sectors, like corporate management and higher education. But when innovation is the product, that has implications for who gets to set priorities in what we research and create to improve society in critical fields like medicine and information technology.
At this rate, women will have to work for another 60 years before seeing gender parity in patenting. In groups of inventors, patents in which women were the “primary inventors,” rather than supporting members of a team, made up just 8 percent of patents.