While women are awarded 53% of PhDs, they accounted for only 12% of named inventors on U.S. patents granted in 2016. Fewer than 30% of Patent Cooperation Treaty applications name a woman inventor. After the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office issued a report, “Progress and Potential: A Profile of Women Inventors on U.S. Patents” in February 2019, the Intellectual Property Owners Association’s Women in IP committee formed a working group to address the issue of gender disparity in innovation. The result of the group’s effort is the “Gender Diversity in Innovation Toolkit” (“Toolkit”), a publicly available document offering proposed solutions to address the gender gap in inventorship.
The Toolkit is aimed at any organization, including corporations, universities and law firms, engaged in innovating new technologies and protecting the resulting intellectual property. It proposes an iterative four-step process: (1) increasing awareness of the disparity and supporting employees in a position to change it; (2) discovering root causes, such as implicit bias; (3) developing short- and long-term programs to address the root causes of the disparity; and (4) launching and monitoring programs to increase gender diversity. It is contemplated that successful results will be shared among organizations. The Toolkit offers detailed suggestions for each of the four steps to be implemented within an organization, as well as a complementary section directed to outside counsel to help clients adopt and use the Toolkit.
As detailed in the “Progress and Potential” report, the proportion of women inventors is lower than women’s participation in STEM education and employment, indicating that there is not merely a “pipeline” problem, but rather one of institutional issues requiring action. At the current rate of increasing women inventorship, it will take until the end of the 21st century to achieve gender parity in named inventorship on U.S. patents. The Toolkit will help organizations recognize women’s contributions to patentable technology, so that parity might instead be reached in our lifetime.