WIPR Influential Women in IP 2019
Women in STEM
Despite greater female participation in
science and engineering occupations and
entrepreneurship, since 1998 the share of
patents with at least one female inventor has
increased only from 15% to 21%.
luggish” is the term the US Patent
and Trademark Office (USPTO) used
to describe the growth of women’s
participation in invention and patenting
in a report published earlier this year.
While the number of patents with at least one
woman inventor increased from about 7% in the 1980s
to 21% by 2016, female inventors made up just 12% of
all inventors on patents granted in 2016 in the US.
The trend may seem encouraging, but since 1998,
the share of patents with at least one female inventor
has increased only from 15% to 21%, suggesting the
pace of entry into patenting by women has slowed,
according to the USPTO.
This is despite greater female participation
in science and engineering occupations and
entrepreneurship. In 2015, women made up about
28% of the total science and engineering workforce
but only 12% of inventors on granted patents.
The office referred to women, like other underrepresented
groups such as ethnic minorities and
children from low-income families, as the “lost
Einsteins”—“people who may contribute valuable
inventions had they been exposed to innovation and
had greater access to the patent system”.
“Too many great ideas remain locked in the
laboratory, studio or classroom because the pathways
to advance knowledge through innovation are opaque
or inaccessible to women,” says Mary Juhas, associate
vice president of Ohio State Advance.
Advance is Ohio State University’s programme which
promotes the recruitment, retention, and advancement
of women faculty in STEM subjects—science, technology,
engineering, mathematics—and medicine.
In 2001, the National Science Foundation initiated
institutional transformation grants through the
Advance programme. There are currently more than
75 Advance institutions across the US.
The STEM pipeline for women accounts for part of
the patenting problem.
Nichole Mercier, managing director of the Office
in roles as
the very highest
of Technology Management (OTM) at Washington
University in St Louis, says that at the university, 35%
of the faculty population in the medical school are
female, and the pipeline “continues to leak as women
attempt to move through the tenure process from
assistant professor to associate to full”.
However, the STEM demographic pipeline is
disparate across academic disciplines. Going back to
the USPTO statistics, Juhas points out the data for
2010–2015 show that women participate at a much
higher rate in some STEM disciplines than is reflected
in their patent activity.
The biological and life science fields are
approaching workforce gender parity (47% are
women), but women represented only about 25% of
inventors on biotech patents and 23% of inventors on
“Similarly, the physical sciences, mathematics and
computer science jobs track at nearly double the rate
of women (more than 25%) as those who are named
on patents (12%),” adds Juhas. “The engineering
disciplines, where the percentage of women has
stubbornly remained well below 20% over decades,
maps closely to the women inventor rate.”
Women overwhelmingly file patent applications
in disciplines in which women have preceded them,
Mary Juhas, Ohio State Advance