Innovation and women’s battle to be heard

Published: | Author: Jayne Durden | Topics: Intellectual Property


47240143 - female scientist looking in microscope in laboratory laboratory microscope

According to a report by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), a gender balance in Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) applications may not be achieved until 2080. The 2016 “Economic research working paper no. 33, identifying the gender of PCT inventors” report analysed 6.2 million named inventors from 182 different countries and found that the number of women filing PCT applications, has improved in recent years. If PCT is an indicator, women inventors still have a long way to go to be equally represented in driving innovation.

The technology industry is overwhelmingly dominated by men, Mercer’s Gender Pay Gap report states that women comprise just 13% of executive level jobs in the technology industry. This reflects the lack of progression for women and their isolation in non-technical roles and makes innovating and patenting a less likely venture for females.

Currently only 4.3% of Patent Cooperation Treat (PCT) applications are filed in the name of female inventors only, according to research carried out by WIPO. Around 30% of PCT applications have women included amongst the collective named inventors.

Gender stereotypes also dominate UK patent data with 79% of IPC subclasses related to beer, wine and spirits filed by male inventors, according to The UK Intellectual Property Office (IPO) research.

The WIPO report cites stark differences across countries, technological fields, and sectors. Korea and China were recognised as leading in gender equality with the highest balance of international patenting. An encouraging 50% of all international applications included a female inventor between 2011 and 2015.

On the other hand, Italy, Germany, South Africa and Japan had the largest gender gap with less than one fifth of all international patent applications being filed by women.

There is a significant difference in the number of males and females in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) positions.  According to a Harvard Business Review study as many as 50% of women working in STEM will drop out of the workforce due to a ‘hostile’ male culture. However, business and technology can benefit from female inventors. The progression of intelligent technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) could stall if women do not play a significant role in their next steps. AI picks up data and knowledge from the world around it so if its world is entirely male – its knowledge is limited to one gender’s perspective.

To try to address the gap, the UK government has pledged £750,000 to Innovate UK’s Women in Innovation programme. Innovate UK will award 15 female innovators grants of £50,000. Similarly, in the US, We Are Tech – a corporation supporting women in technology – holds an annual conference in a bid to encourage women to succeed and bridge the skills gap. More programmes like this are needed to support and inspire the next generation of female inventors and STEM professionals across the globe.

To read more about why diversity and inclusion matter to the future of IP, click here.