Women Inventors Make Progress but Still Lag Male Counterparts, Invent Together

July 21, 2020

American women are making slow but steady progress when it comes to innovation and obtaining legal protection for their inventions, according to a new study by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

The share of patents with at least one woman named as inventor was 22% by the end of 2019, up from 20.7% in 2016, according to the study of patents with at least one U.S.-based inventor. That’s still small considering half of all patents are issued to foreign inventors and women make up half of the country’s population.

Women made up less than 13% of all U.S.-based patentees when taking into account that some are listed on multiple patents. That too is higher than in past years.

While showing improvement, the report released Tuesday is the latest to look at what’s become known as the “lost Einsteins” — women, underrepresented minorities and people from lower socioeconomic rungs that have been shut out of what could be a key driver to financial growth.

Tapping into that potential is seen as key to continued American supremacy in different technology fields. Patents can form the basis for new products and companies, entice venture capital dollars, and protect inventions from unfair competition.

“For this system to be most effective, all Americans must have the opportunity to reap the personal and commercial benefits of applying for and receiving patent protection,” the study’s authors said. The PTO report is an update of one issued last year, to include figures from 2017 through 2019.

Women inventors are concentrated in the fields of health care and pharmaceuticals, consistent with higher job participation in those industries. Among the top American companies obtaining patents, Procter & Gamble Co. had the highest average of women inventors at 29%, followed by Bristol-Myers Squib Co. and Abbott Laboratories.

About 41% of all U.S.-based women inventor-patentees were in just four states — California, Massachusetts, New York and Texas. Those states, along with Washington, represent the five biggest states for inventors.

Perhaps the most promising figure when it comes to narrowing the gender gap came in analyzing the percentage of new inventors who remained active in the system by obtaining more patents within a five-year period. For men who were new inventors in 2014, about 52% remained active. For women, that figure was 46%.