By Evan Sully

Plenty of women and members of minority groups are hoping to invent the next iPhone, blockbuster medicine or top-selling toy, but too often they don’t get patents that would ensure they get paid for their ideas.

A new report from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office concludes that those disparities could cost the U.S. its technological leadership because patents are frequently the first step to attracting investors.

“Innovation in the United States is highly concentrated, and vast swaths of our population are not fully participating,” the study, released last month, concludes.

The magnitude of the problem isn’t precisely known because the patent office only collects the name, mailing address and residence of applicants.

Studies by independent groups such as the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation are based on surveys. A Harvard University study last year found whites are more than three times as likely to become inventors as blacks. Other research commissioned by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research concluded that only 18% of U.S. patents list a woman as an inventor.

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