Connecticut ranks 23rd in the U.S. in the rate of inventions by women, below the U.S. average, in an analysis published by the United States Patent and Trademark Office this year. The report, “Progress and Potential: A profile of women investors on U.S. patents,” found that nationally the number of patents with at least one woman inventor increased from about 7% in the 1980s to 21% by 2016.
Despite this increase, the percentage of all patent inventors that are women, or the annual “women inventor rate,” reached only 12% in 2016. The top ranked state was Delaware, at 18%. The top ten included D.C., New Jersey, Maryland, Alaska, New York, Massachusetts, California, Georgia and Missouri. North Carolina and Virginia also exceeded the national average.
Women’s inventive participation has improved the most in chemistry and design patents, according to the analysis. While women accounted for only 6% of inventors on chemistry patents issued 1977–1986, they comprised roughly 18% in the last decade (2007–2016). Within chemistry, certain subcategories exhibit even higher women inventor rates. In 2016, for example, women accounted for more than one-fifth of inventors granted patents in biotechnology (25% women inventor rate), pharmaceuticals (23%), and organic fine chemistry (21%).
Women’s participation on patents in instruments and electrical engineering has also improved, but to a lesser extent, the report indicated. Among mechanical engineering patents, where inventors are the most disproportionately male, there has been the slowest improvement in women’s participation.
The report also indicated that in the 1977–1986 decade, women accounted for only 7% and 4% of inventors on patents granted to universities and hospitals and public research organizations, respectively. In the last decade observed, just under 20% of inventors on patents assigned to universities and hospitals and 15% of inventors on patents granted to public research organizations were women.
Women are increasingly likely to patent on large, gender-mixed inventor teams, highlighting the growing importance of understanding the relationship between gender and innovative collaboration, the report points out. Women inventor rates are higher in technology-intensive states, but also in states where more women participate in the overall workforce, according to the report.
“Even today,” the report states, “women comprise a small minority of patent inventors. This fact suggests that their innovative potential is underutilized.”
According to a Yale University study published last year, women inventors have less success than men at each step of the patent application process in the U.S. A review of more than 2 million submissions to the US Patent and Trademark Office found that, regardless of the field, processing times are slower, rejection rates are higher, and the scope of the patent ends up narrower for filings coming from women than from men.
“The extent to which women are facing tougher hurdles is relatively small at every stage,” study coauthor Olav Sorenson, a professor at the Yale School of Management, said in an interview pubished by The Scientist. “[But] those are going to add up and mean that the [overall] disparities . . . are going to be much larger than they are at any individual stage of the process.”
The researchers also found that patents from female inventors were less likely to be appealed if rejected and received fewer citations by future applicants—meaning that women may also face discrimination from other inventors, The Scientist pointed out.