Are women as successful as men in obtaining a patent for their invention?
We wanted to investigate gender bias in patent outcomes at IP Australia, the government agency responsible for managing intellectual property rights.
To do this, we analyzed 309,544 patent applications over a 15-year period (2001-2015), categorizing nearly a million inventors’ names based on whether they sounded male or female.
We found that having a masculine-sounding first name increases the chances of obtaining a patent. These gender biases can have serious implications for women’s health, women’s career development and equality policies in STEM. But what is the cause?
Women are increasingly applying for patents
Patents provide a 20-year monopoly on a new invention and are a well-known measure of the output of STEM-based industries.
Worldwide studies show that the number of patent applications from female inventors (although still lower than the number from men) has increased significantly over the past 20 years. What was less clear is whether these applications are converted into granted patents.
studies Unfortunately, data from the United States Patent and Trademark Office shows that inventors with feminine-sounding first names are less successful in obtaining their patent than those with masculine-sounding first names.
We wanted to explore whether there is a similar gender bias for patents filed with IP Australia, where most applications are from non-residents. Inventors planning to operate internationally will often file returns in multiple jurisdictions, including Australia.
So unlike studies by the US Patent and Trademark Office, where most patents come from US residents, a study of patents at IP Australia reflects more global applications.
There is still a gender gap
Our analysis of 309,544 patent applications filed over 15 years found that 90% of the applications had at least one male inventor. Only 24% had at least one female inventor (usually as part of a mixed team).
We then looked at whether these applications had been converted into a successful patent grant. We found that inventors with feminine-sounding first names were slightly less likely to get their patent.
As the number of men on a team increased, so did the chances of the team getting a patent, while adding a woman had a negligible impact. In other words, larger teams of inventors had more patent success unless the additional inventors had feminine-sounding names.
But why is it so?
One question for us was whether this gender inequality could be explained by the types of fields in which patents were granted, and whether women simply work in less “patentable” fields such as life sciences.
We found that over 60% of female inventors were clustered in just four of the 35 technical fields (the 35 scientific categories recognized in patents). These were all in the life sciences: chemistry, biotechnology, pharmacy and medical technology.
We also found that patents in three of these areas had lower than average success rates. In other words, it is generally more difficult to get a patent in these areas, regardless of whether you are a woman or a man.
Nevertheless, even after statistically controlling for the effect of participating in a less successful field, we still found a gender disparity: male-named inventors outperformed female-named inventors.
Women in STEM should be supported
The implications of women falling outside the patent system are significant for a number of reasons. First, patents with female inventors are more likely to target female diseases.
Also, obtaining a patent can be important for career development and for securing investment capital. And research has shown that a lack of female inventors today affects the speed at which girls strive to be the inventors of tomorrow.
The next step in our research is to find out why there is a gender gap in successful patent applications.
We don’t believe it’s a simple case of gender bias at the patent office. We suspect that the issues are complex and related to the systemic and institutional biases that hold back women’s advancement in STEM more broadly.
National and cultural differences may also play a role, especially as over 90% of patent applications received by IP Australia come from non-Australian inventors (mostly from the United States).
We want to look deeper into our results to find out what’s driving the gender inequality and what we can do to support female inventors.
The first step in solving a problem is recognizing that it exists. We hope our research sparks a conversation that will prompt people to reflect on their own biases.
Women listed as inventors in third of worldwide patent applications: UN
Quote: We studied 309,544 patent applications – and found that inventing is still a man’s world (2022, September 27) retrieved September 27, 2022 from https://phys.org/news/2022-09-patent-applicationsand-world.html
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