By: Suzanne Harrison, Chair of the Patent Public Advisory Committee (PPAC) at the USPTO. This post is part of a series by the Diversity Pilots Initiative, which advances inclusive innovation through rigorous research. The first blog in the series is here and resources from the first conference of the initiative are available here.
In July 2021, the USIPA hosted a DEI in innovation conference and launched The Diversity Pledge, alongside 30 founding Pledgee companies who agreed to increase the participation of under-represented inventors (URIs) in their own firms. Currently, over 50 technology companies have committed to the Diversity Pledge from both the US and Europe across a variety of different industries as well as over 25 law firms and consulting firms as pledge supporters. On August 1st, we held the second conference on Increasing Diversity in the Innovation Ecosystem with the USPTO and showcased what companies, law firms, universities and the USPTO are doing in their respective organizations to increase DEI within inventorship, innovation and the IP profession.
When we created the Diversity Pledge, our hope was to create more transparency in innovation and inventorship inclusivity, by creating a standard metric for companies to report on their DEI reports. What we have come to realize however, is that increasing diversity and inclusivity in innovation is not only an equal-opportunity social imperative, it is a common sense means to improve R&D efficiency, corporate ROI and it is also a necessity for maintaining and increasing national competitiveness. Because we can’t afford to leave our most talented people on the sidelines, the goal must be actionable, not performative.
So, two years into this movement, what have we learned? Creating a metric and asking companies to focus on improving it has led them to implement best practices, try out a variety pf process improvements which have led to substantive changes. Of the 50 Pledgee companies, 30 of them participated in our first round of reporting, as not all of them had been Pledgees long enough to have a full year of data to report. Of the 30 reporting, 17 provided women inventor rates (WIR) for year 1 and 6 provided the WIR rate for year 2. You can see the results in Figure 1 below:
For clarity, Pledgees were not required to report their WIR numbers, but chose to do so. So, for the 6 Pledgees that reported two years of data, we can see that focusing on increasing inclusivity in inventorship for women, led to an average increase of women on patent applications of 23%. For comparison, the US national WIR as determined by the USPTO is 13% so our Pledgees mean WIR in both year 1 and 2 are above the national average. How are companies achieving these results? At the conference we heard about a number of different things companies are doing. First, mentoring women on the inventorship process and how they can improve their invention disclosure and patent application success rates. Companies are also looking at how to better integrate underrepresented inventors into the innovation process and how to ensure both their voices and ideas are heard and incorporated. Many of these efforts are being piloted by companies, and groups such as the Diversity Pilots Initiative (DPI) are crucial to helping us determine what actually works versus “seems” to work. Many Pledgees have worked with DPI and have determined what interventions are successful and have allowed us to genericize those efforts and promulgate within Pledgees for continued success.
Two years ago, companies were focused on having us explain the value they would receive by focusing on inclusivity in inventorship or DEI in general. While we still get occasional questions about this, recent data from both Gartner and World Economic Forum show that diverse teams within corporations, will exceed their financial targets, and drive a higher average revenue from innovation. For companies this often translates to higher revenue and/or profit, increased employee retention, and lower hiring costs (as potential employees are interested in working for companies that appear more inclusive). But the real value for the nation, comes from increased employment and higher state and national gross domestic product (GDP). This focus on jobs and GDP has caught the attention of both the Department of Commerce (DoC) and the USPTO. Between the DoC and the National Science Foundation (NSF), these two agencies are investing over $1.3 billion in revitalizing America’s innovation ecosystem. Finding out that one can use patent data to help visualize who is and is not participating in our innovation ecosystems, helps us figure out who to include in this process.
Additionally, the work Diversity Pledgees are doing is laying the groundwork for how companies, universities and law firms can make meaningful contribution to not only their own profitability, but also to our national economic and technological success. This point was made crystal clear in the fireside chat with Director Kathi Vidal and Deputy Secretary of Commerce Don Graves at the conference. In my 30 years as an IP practitioner, I cannot recall ever hearing anyone from the DoC talk about the importance of IP and innovation to the economy. While we all intuitively believe that focusing on DEI is the right thing to do, finding out that it can truly help the nation is invaluable. So, if you haven’t started on your DEI journey yet, what are you waiting for? Knowing you can make an impact for both your company and country seems like a no brainer.
Three Key Take-Aways
- Immediate Innovation Impact: Pledgee companies focusing on DEI report an average 23% increase in women on patent applications, surpassing the US national WIR.
- National Competitiveness Boost: DEI initiatives, supported by the DoC and USPTO, are highlighted as essential for improving national employment rates and GDP.
- Blueprint for Profitable Inclusion: The Diversity Pledge and collaborations like DPI are helping organizations elevate DEI, enhancing both their profitability and national economic success.
If you find this insight compelling and want to stay informed on the latest developments, sign up for the DPI research updates today!