Why Aren't There More Female Patent-Holders?

(Photo: Michael Neubert)

We’ve blogged before about gender inequality and the persistent male/female wage gap.  A new working paper by Jennifer Hunt, Jean-Philippe Garant, Hannah Herman, and David J. Munroe highlights another arena where women are lagging: commercialized patents. Only 7.5 percent of regular patent and 5.5 percent of commercial patent holders are female.  The authors explored various explanations for the gap:

Using the National Survey of College Graduates 2003, we find only 7% of the gap is accounted for by women’s lower probability of holding any science or engineering degree, because women with such a degree are scarcely more likely to patent than women without. Differences among those without a science or engineering degree account for 15%, while 78% is accounted for by differences among those with a science or engineering degree. For the latter group, we find that women’s underrepresentation in engineering and in jobs involving development and design explain much of the gap…

The disparity has real economic consequences: “The gender patenting gap is of economic significance: eliminating the patenting shortfall of female holders of science and engineering degrees would increase GDP per capita by 2.7%.”


The true picture might be masked by the fact that all patents contain the applicant and the inventor. They are not necessarily the same person. The applicant ( very often and company) may mask the fact that the inventor was female. I suspect further inspection of the various sectors will reveal a differing pattern. As a site interested in female issues your piece caught my interest www.silverlinksnetwork.com

Andreas Moser

Oh no. Shame on you for bringing up this subject. Surely, somebody will ask for a quota now: http://andreasmoser.wordpress.com/2010/10/03/quotas-for-women-why-only-in-boardrooms/

Nerdy Woman

I have 10-12 ideas that I believe marketable and worthy of development. I'm not a scientist or engineer. I'm someone who thinks outside the box and devises ways life could be made better/easier/more productive. I think there are many inventors who are women who have great ideas for things we could and would use every day.

I'm also a stay-at-home mom homeschooling a 15 yo w an IQ of 170+ and for the past several years, that has consumed much time and energy. Studies show that women, even in our enlightened 2012 society, still wear many hats. If we choose to have a family, we are the caregivers, cooks, chauffeurs much more frequently than our male counterparts. Most of us also have jobs.

In the United States, the patent application process is overwhelming. Independent inventors have to invest money, their own or someone else's, and not just the $2300 the USPTO charges small entities for search, application, examination, and issuance. A patent attorney would certainly make that process easier. But I doubt this is the kind of thing attorneys do pro bono. I wouldn't expect them to.

Are women less inventive? Less capable? NOOOO! Do we have the resources -- time, money, energy -- to pursue developoment of our brilliant ideas? Perhaps not often enough. I guess it's all about priorities.

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Ting Su

Women generally do not feel comfortable to state “I believe I am one of the inventors”. They feel their supervisors and other inventors know what their contributions are and hope they remember them. Sometimes they started a new idea and work but somehow are left out at late stage and become one of the team members, not inventors.


As simple as because men are better tahn women for science. And it is as true as say that men are stronger than women.


As a woman architect and holder of five patents, I can say that it is incredibly difficult and expensive process for any individual. Having less available income, due to family circumstances, career norms or longstanding pay gaps doesn't help. Getting the patents is no guarantee of a payoff, so it takes a high tolerance for risk. That is not an encouraged trait, especially for womenhowever well calculated.


How about putting the same amount of effort and money into getting the rest of the men who are not patenting to patient and enter science math and technology. I bet the GDP growth would be greater.


Take away the patents for "furnishing" and I bet gap is much wider. I am surprised the gap is even this narrow.