Proportion of Women Inventors on the Rise, Say Two New Studies

indexA brief while ago, I had published a piece on the interface between gender and IP. One of the key take- aways from the post was that the number of women patentees worldwide is extremely low as compared to men. Two recently published studies- one by the UK Intellectual Property Office (“Study 1”) and another, a working paper of WIPO (“Study 2”) – point out that the gender gap among inventors is slowly but surely being bridged across the world. Apart from this crucial finding, the studies also give a number of other insights, including into the proportion of men and women across different institutional types (academia versus industry) and across areas of technological specialisation.

Database and methodology used

Although patent application systems across the world mandate that each inventor be named in the patent application, there is no requirement of identifying the gender of these inventors. This makes it extremely difficult to come up with exact breakdown of inventors on the basis of gender. The existing literature in the area has mostly relied on secondary sources, that too retroactively, and has mostly confined themselves to specific countries or geographical regions. These two studies differ in their scope in it that they have taken a global approach and sought to apply a more rigorous methodology while arriving at their findings.

Study 1 titled ‘Gender profiles in worldwide patenting’, compiled its figures on the basis of the European Patent Office’s Worldwide Patent Statistical Database (‘PATSTAT’). It has relied on the ‘name-gender inference’ works done by academics (in this instance, the Matias and Tang methodologies). By only relying on names with a confidence score of more than 95% (i.e., more than 95 of the 100 entries under a specific name were observed to have fallen into either of the two genders without ambiguity), the Study has attempted to minimise the errors.

Study 2 titled ‘Identifying the gender of PCT inventors’, on the other hand, relied on the Patent Co-operation Treaty (“PCT”) database and accomplished gender attribution by developing its own world gender-name dictionary (“WGND”). Thus, both the studies used secondary sources to come up with their findings and are vulnerable to at least a few false positives or negatives while attributing gender.

Key findings

Although both the studies have a number of unique features in terms of the methodology adopted and the conclusions arrived at, the substantial portions of them mirrored each other. I am summarising the key findings here in the form of a table so that the readers can better appreciate the common findings arrived at by both these studies.

Observation Study 1 Study 2
Country wise breakdown France (11.7% ) and Russia (15.7%) have considerably less gender gap as opposed to Japan (3.7%), Republic of Korea (4.4%) and Germany (5.5%) among the top patenting jurisdictions Women inventors resident in or nationals of China (29%) and the Republic of Korea (27%) have the highest gender balance among the top PCT countries
Variation based on areas of science and technology Traditional associations continue to persist with  areas like biotechnology, food chemistry and pharmaceuticals continuing to have the highest proportion of female inventors among the STEM industries Highest participation in biotechnology (57.6%) and least found in the field of mechanical elements (10.9%). High gender balance in food chemistry, pharmaceuticals, organic fine chemistry etc.
Variation based on institutional types (corporate/ academia/government) This issue was outside the scope of this study. But, it suggests that anecdotal evidence points to higher proportion of female inventors in academia than within industry Greater gender balance within universities and public research institutions (48%) as compared to business sector (28%). But, absolute numbers greater for the business sector
Change in gender gap Gender gap, though substantial, is decreasing. An increase of more than 500% between 1975-2015 has been observed in the proportion of women inventors. Proportion of women in the total has risen to approximately 10% in 2015. All parameters related to gender balance are displaying improvement. Overall participation has increased across countries, institutional types and areas of science and technology. Overall participation has increased to 29% in 2015 from 17% in 1995



Although both studies re-affirm that the proportion of female inventors and patent applicants continue to be low, they extend great hopes for the future. Proportion of female inventors is steadily increasing across countries, institutional sectors and different fields of science and technology. One caveat that Study 2 lays down is that some of the more gender balanced patent jurisdictions like Singapore, Spain and Poland are unlikely to contribute substantially in the coming years and the lead will have to come from US, Germany and Japan. Study 2 also predicts that the gender balance is expected to be only attained by not earlier than 2080. Thus, there is still no room for any kind of complacency when it comes to efforts at increasing women inventors.

Finally, there is no doubt that such studies, albeit based on secondary data, are crucial to recognising and bridging the gender disparities within our inventors. It is important that similar studies are undertaken to map the involvement of women in other areas of IP as well.

(Image from here)


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