Patents are intended to lure potential inventors into the business of innovation. The truth is, however, that very little is known about how patents really drive innovation.
Historically, only a very small number of women have obtained patents. Data from historic studies:
- 1790 – 1895: About 1% were granted to women;
- 1905 – 1921: About 1.4% were granted to women;
- 1954: 1.5% of issued patents included women inventors;
- 1977: 2.6% listed one or more women as inventors;
- 1996: 9.2% listed one or more women as inventors.
Since patentees do not list their sex, all of these studies rely upon segregating inventors according to traditional first-names.
2006: In my own recent study, I looked at a sample of 150,000+ patents issued between 1999 and 2006. I then made a list-ranking of first-names of first-listed inventors. Can anyone guess how many of of the top-100 inventor-names were traditionally female names???
Zero: None of the top 100 first-names are traditionally female names. The first, “Susan,” does not arrive until 113 male names pass-by.
The Easy Potential Conclusion: Our patent system is not driving innovation amongst women to any significant degree. A recent Science article teases this out in two-ways (with a focus on academic science): (1) there are more men than women working in scientific academic fields; (2) the men working science file patents at a much greater rate than do the women.
Query: What incentive would you suggest that would encourage more potential women inventors to enter the field? It may be more important to ask what barriers are in place today that work against women inventors.