Congress Introduces IDEA Act, Crucial Step Toward Diversifying Invention and Patenting

March 9, 2021

Today, a bipartisan, bicameral group of Members of Congress introduced the Inventor Diversity for Economic Advancement (IDEA) Act, which allows the USPTO to collect demographic data on inventors from patent applicants on a voluntary basis.

Invention is a core American value. American inventors developed the lightbulb, the airplane, the hypodermic needle, the mobile phone, and millions of other inventions that save lives, connect people, create jobs, and improve the quality of life for generations to come. While the genius of the American inventor—supported by constitutionally guaranteed patent rights—allowed the United States to advance from its agrarian infancy to a global technology superpower, not all Americans share equally in that economic and technological progress.

Women, people of color and those from lower-income backgrounds patent their inventions at far lower rates than their representation in the population. These “patent gaps” mean that many individuals are missing out on the benefits of patenting. One study by Harvard researchers found that we would have four times as many inventors in America today if we closed these gaps.

These disparities aren’t only unfair to diverse inventors. They also impair economic growth and U.S. leadership in innovation. Dr. Lisa Cook at Michigan State University found that including more women and African Americans in the early stages of innovation could increase annual U.S. GDP by almost $1 trillion.

In order to make change and close the patent gaps, we have to measure what matters. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) does not collect demographic information on inventors. What we do know about the patent gaps comes from research that relies on name-matching software and other imperfect techniques. These studies have found that:

  • Fewer than 13% of all inventors listed on a patent in 2019 were women;
  • Black and Hispanic college graduates apply for and are awarded patents at half the rate of their White counterparts; and
  • Americans born into the top one-percent of family income are ten times more likely to obtain a patent in adulthood than those born into families in the bottom half of income.

Access to a current and comprehensive data source is necessary to enable the USPTO and the public to accurately examine the patent gaps and track progress toward closing them.

That’s why today, a bipartisan, bicameral group of Members of Congress introduced the Inventor Diversity for Economic Advancement (IDEA) Act, which allows the USPTO to collect demographic data on inventors from patent applicants on a voluntary basis. The sponsors of the bill, Reps. Nydia Velázquez (D-NY) and Steve Stivers (R-OH) and Sens. Mazie Hirono (D-HI) and Thom Tillis (R-NC), see the bill as a crucial step toward understanding the diversity gaps in patenting and finding ways to close them.

We urge you call your representatives and ask them to support this important legislation.