USPTO: Pilot Program Reduced Gender Disparity in Patents

The US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) has announced that a pilot program has helped reduce gender disparity in patent applications granted.

According to Yale Insights,

researchers found that women inventors are less likely to have their patent applications approved than men. But that disparity dips if an examiner can’t guess an inventor’s gender from her name.

In fact,

The researchers found that women inventors with common names had an 8.2% lower chance of getting their patents approved. But the difference in probability of approval fell to 2.8% for those with rare names, where it would be tougher for an examiner to guess the applicant’s gender.

As the report notes,

In the United States, women earn half of the doctoral degrees in science and engineering. But when it comes to patenting their inventions, they trail far behind men: Only 10% of patent-holders are women. Even in the life sciences, where women earn more than half of new PhDs, only 15% of inventors listed on patents are women.

The USPTO’s Office of the Chief Economist released an Economic Note and working paper examining the impacts from a trial program focusing on patent applicants without legal representation (pro se applicants). The Note compares all applicants, US applicants, and first-time applicants, breaking down the figures by gender.

In response to the America Invents Act, the USPTO created the Pro Se Pilot Examination Unit in 2014 to help patent applicants who don’t have legal representation.

The Pro Se Assistance program provides inventor resources such as training videos and one-on-one assistance via video conference or telephone.

(However, the USPTO always recommends using a registered patent attorney or agent to assist in preparing your application.)

The impact of the Pro Se program was to increase the likelihood of male applicants receiving a patent by 4.6 to 6.1 percentage points.

However, the impact on female applications was much more significant. The study found that the program increased the likelihood of women receiving a patent by 16.8 percentage points.

The effect was even larger for U.S. women applicants and first-time U.S. women applicants, improving their patent rates by 19.7 percentage points and 23.5 percentage points, respectively.

As the Note states, “women remain underrepresented as inventors named on U.S. patents.”

According to a 2020 report,

  • The women inventor rate (WIR)—that is, the share of women among all U.S. inventor-patentees—grew from 12.1% in 2016 to 12.8% by 2019.
  • Patenting by U.S.-based women grew between 2016 and 2019. Patents with at least one woman inventor accounted for 21.9% of patents through 2019, up from 20.7% in 2016.

Women are 4.2% more likely than men to be first-time US inventors who filed patent applications with small or micro entities (for example, small businesses, nonprofits, and universities) at the USPTO.

According to the Office of the Chief Economist,

Small and micro entities typically do not have the financial resources or legal agents or lawyers necessary to successfully prosecute patent applications. As women are more likely to enter the patent system through these organizational forms, providing applications with the information and tools to navigate the complexities of patent examination could be an effective way to address the gender gap in patenting.

Categories: Patents