- Posted on: Apr 26 2022
By: Anna Kinney [4/26/22]
Innovation has been valued throughout the history of the United States. In fact, it was so important that Article I, Section 8 of the US Constitution gave Congress the power “To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.” With respect to inventors and discoveries, this exclusive right is secured with a patent. Patents provide a temporary monopoly for the patent owner in return for making the invention public domain when the patent term expires.
Unfortunately, women and minorities in the US are underrepresented. Congress required the USPTO and the Small Business Administration to review publicly available information regarding the number of patent applications filed by women, minorities, and veterans and to make recommendations on how to increase their participation. Since the USPTO does not collect information on applicants’ gender, race, or ethnicity, the available data is sparse. However, the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) identified nearly 200 studies and developed an algorithm to infer the gender of inventors to analyze existing databases of patents and patent applications. They found that the share of patents with at least one woman inventor rose to 21% in 2016, while the fraction of women inventors overall was only about 12%. (United States Patent and Trademark Office, 2019). Economists have determined that over the period of 1975 to 2008, the share of patents with a black inventor was less than 1% (Krishtel, 2021).
Since patents are believed to foster economic growth, this lack of representation amounts to a lost resource. For example, Chile experienced rapid GDP per capita growth after establishing a new Intellectual Property system and joining the Paris Convention in 1990 and 1991 (Hall, 2020). The prospect that China’s economy will eclipse the US economy has been closely monitored for decades (Winck, 2021). As more international applications have been filed from China than were filed from the US in the last two years (Nebehay, 2020), patent filings have been one indicator of the race to economic supremacy.
Several stakeholder groups have identified the lack of diversity in patents as a problem that should be addressed. The USPTO has established a Council for Inclusive Innovation to help increase the participation of women and other underrepresented groups (About the Council for Inclusive Innovation, 2021). Based on the concept that a problem must be defined before it can be effectively solved, several groups have recommended that the USPTO begin to collect demographic information on inventors. The Institute for Women’s Policy Research determined that there are several factors that dissuade women from obtaining patents. These include the complexity and expense of the process, the concentration of women in fields other than science and engineering, limited personal and professional networking, social biases against women competing in commercial science, and a lack of uniform institutionalized support (Milli, Williams-Baron, Berlan, Xia, & Gualt, 2016). Better support and access to inventor resources would support all inventors, including women and minorities.
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About the Council for Inclusive Innovation. (2021, December 19). Retrieved from United States Patent and Trademark Office: https://www.uspto.gov/initiatives/equity/ci2/about
Hall, B. H. (2020). Patents, Innovation, and Development, Working Paper 27203. Cambridge: National Bureau of Economic Research.
Krishtel, P. (2021, February 9). The path to Racial Justice Runs Through This Agency. The New York Times. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2021/02/09/opinion/biden-patent-office.html
Milli, J., Williams-Baron, E., Berlan, M., Xia, J., & Gualt, B. (2016). Equity in Innovation: Women Inventors and Patents. Institute for Women’s Policy Research.
Nebehay, S. (2020, April 7). In a first, China knocks US from top spot in global patent race. Retrieved from Reuters: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-china-patents-idUSKBN21P1P9
United States Patent and Trademark Office. (2019). Report to Congress, pursuant to PL 115-273, the SUCCESS Act: Study of Underrepresented Classes Chasing Engineering and Science Success.
Winck, B. a. (2021, November 1). The US has a chance to put China in the economic rearview mirror because of Xi’s ‘awkward regime shift,’ BofA says. Business Insider. Retrieved December 20, 2021, from https://www.businessinsider.com/china-regime-shift-us-economic-race-evergrande-crisis-slow-growth-2021-11