New report on underrepresented groups in patenting
Blog by Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of the USPTO Andrei Iancu
Undergraduate students from Johns Hopkins University, and Finalists in the Collegiate Inventors Competition, work on their award winning invention, PeritoneX, a mechanism that disinfects at-home peritoneal dialysis systems to prevent infection. (Photo courtesy of PeritoneX)
America’s long-standing economic prosperity and global technological leadership depend on a strong and vibrant innovation ecosystem. To maximize the nation’s potential, it’s more important than ever that all Americans who are willing to work hard, persevere and take risks have the opportunity to innovate, to start new companies, to succeed in established companies, and ultimately, to achieve the American dream. To maintain our technological leadership, the United States must seek to broaden our innovation, entrepreneurship and intellectual property ecosystems demographically, geographically, and economically.
The USPTO is at the forefront of this effort. The Study of Underrepresented Classes Chasing Engineering and Science Success Act of 2018, also known as the “SUCCESS Act,” directed the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), in consultation with the Small Business Administration, to identify publicly available data on the number of patents annually applied for and obtained by women, minorities, and veterans, and the benefits of increasing these numbers. The Act also asked for legislative recommendations on how to encourage and increase the participation by these groups as inventor-patentees and entrepreneurs. On October 31, we released our SUCCESS Act report.
As detailed in our report, after reviewing literature and data sources, we found that there is a limited amount of publicly available information regarding the participation rates of women, minorities, and veterans in the patent system. One of the most comprehensive studies on women inventors was published by the USPTO earlier this year, “Progress and Potential: a profile of women inventors on U.S. patents,” which found that only about 12% of inventors named on U.S. patents are women.
As an agency, we have undertaken a proactive approach to encourage women, minorities, and veterans to innovate and secure patents to protect their innovations. We provide guidance and assistance to inventors, host annual events such as the annual Invention-Con and Women’s Entrepreneurship Symposium, support pro bono networks around the country, offer pro se assistance to make navigating the patent process more accessible, especially to first-time applicants, and have free legal services through 60 participating law school clinics. Plus, our four regional offices serve inventors, entrepreneurs, and small businesses throughout the country, and our Patent and Trademark Resource Centers are located in more than 80 public, state, and academic libraries—many in minority and underserved communities. These centers offer regular programming, virtual office hours with USPTO subject matter experts, and librarians trained to assist with intellectual property research.
In our SUCCESS Act report, we identified ways to build on existing USPTO programs by undertaking even more initiatives, some of which include:
• Council for innovation inclusiveness: The USPTO plans to establish a council to develop a national strategy for promoting and increasing the participation of underrepresented groups as inventor-patentees, entrepreneurs, and innovation leaders.
• Workforce development: The USPTO will work with other government agencies to help develop workforce training materials that include information on how to obtain a patent, and the importance of invention and IP protections.
• Increased development of IP training for educators: The USPTO will work with other federal agencies to develop training materials to help elementary, middle, and high school teachers incorporate the concepts of invention and IP creation and protection into classroom instruction.
Our report also includes a number of legislative recommendations for Congress, such as:
• Enhance USPTO authority to gather information: Congress could authorize a streamlined mechanism for the USPTO to undertake a voluntary, confidential, biennial survey of individuals named in patent applications that have been filed with the USPTO.
• Expand the purposes/scopes of relevant federal grant programs: Congress could expand the authorized uses of grants and funds in appropriate federal programs to include activities that promote invention and entrepreneurship, as well as the protection of inventions and innovations using intellectual property among underrepresented groups.
• Support exhibits at national museums featuring inventors/entrepreneurs: Congress could encourage national museums to feature exhibits that highlight the contributions to U.S. invention and entrepreneurship by individuals from underrepresented groups.
In addition, the USPTO plays a critical role to equip tomorrow’s inventors, innovators, and entrepreneurs with the skills they need to succeed. That is why we support dozens of STEM-related programs and events that provide basic education about intellectual property to young men and women. These include the Girl Scout IP patch, which is available to Girl Scout troops across the nation; programs in partnership with the National Inventors Hall of Fame, such as Camp Invention, which is offered in school districts in every state, and the Collegiate Inventors Competition, which takes place each year at the USPTO; the National Summer Teacher Institute, which incorporates invention and IP into classrooms; collaborations with historically black colleges and universities; and so much more.
Broadening the innovation ecosphere to include more women, minorities, and veterans is critical to inspiring novel inventions, driving economic growth, and maintaining America’s global competitiveness. We will continue to work with our stakeholders, other government agencies, Congress, and the public to maximize the potential for all individuals—regardless of background or status—to invent, protect their inventions, and succeed.