Progress and Potential: A profile of women inventors on U.S. patents

On February 11, 2019, the USPTO released "Progress and Potential: A profile of women inventors on U.S. patents," a report on the trends and characteristics of U.S. women inventors named on U.S. patents granted from 1976 through 2016. The report shows that women still comprise a small minority of patent inventors. Further, it highlights the untapped potential of women to spur U.S. innovation. Women, like other under-represented groups, are among the “lost Einsteins”—people who may contribute valuable inventions had they been exposed to innovation1 and had greater access to the patent system. 

line chart showing consistent upward trend of three variables: patents with at least one woman, women inventor rate, and women's share of total patenting. X-axis shows time 1976-2016. Y-axis shows percentage from 0-25 percent.

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Major findings:

  • The share of patents that include at least one woman as an inventor increased from about 7 percent in the 1980s to 21 percent by 2016.
  • Even with this increase in patent counts, women inventors made up only 12 percent of all inventors on patents granted in 2016.
  • Gains in female participation in science and engineering occupations and entrepreneurship are not leading to broad increases in female patent inventors.
  • Technology-intensive U.S. states, and those where women participate more in the overall workforce, show higher women inventor rates.
  • Women inventors are increasingly concentrated in specific technologies and types of patenting organizations, suggesting that women are specializing where female predecessors have patented rather than entering into male-dominated fields or firms.
  • American businesses have the lowest women inventor rates among the various categories of U.S. patent owners. 
  • Women are increasingly likely to patent on large, gender-mixed inventor teams, highlighting the growing importance of understanding the relationship between gender and innovative collaboration.

 


1 Alex Bell, Raj Chetty, Xavier Jaravel, Neviana Petkova, John Van Reenen; Who Becomes an Inventor in America? The Importance of Exposure to Innovation, The Quarterly Journal of Economics, forthcoming, https://doi.org/10.1093/qje/qjy028