Patent gender gap —
what can we do to close it —
and why it matters
Inventor and patent-holder Hedy Lamarr. By Employee(s) of MGM – source, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=44898216
We previously blogged about the serious gender gap in patent ownership. A 2012 working paper prepared for the National Bureau of Economic Research showed that women held only 7.5% of regular patents and 5.5% of commercial patents in the US.
Those numbers haven’t changed much in the past few years.
A 2016 research paper by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research shows that only 7% of “primary inventors” listed on US patents are women.
Fewer women than men have degrees in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) fields, but this only accounts for a small amount of the disparity in the patent rate.
It turns out that women who do have STEM degrees are only slight more likely to hold patents than women who don’t have such degrees.
If asked to name a male patent owner, many people might be able to name at least Thomas Edison or Steve Jobs. But many would be hard-pressed to name a famous female patent owner.
As we mentioned in the previous blog, movie star Hedy Lamarr (shown above) was granted US Patent 2,292,387, under her married name of Hedy Kiesler Markey. The patent used a piano roll to hop between 88 frequencies and make radio-guided torpedoes more difficult to detect or jam. The technology is one of the foundations for modern Wi-Fi and Bluetooth.
Another female patent owner is newly famous because of the 2015 movie Joy, starring Jennifer Lawrence.
Lawrence plays real-life inventor Joy Mangano. As The Telegraph reported,
When Joy Mangano stepped in front of the QVC cameras for the first time in 1992, she had a great deal riding on her performance. Aged 33, she was a single mother to three children who had invested her life savings (and $100,000 borrowed from friends and family) into a small business based around her invention, the Miracle Mop.
QVC sold 18,000 mops in 20 minutes. Mangano’s company went on to sell more than $200 million worth of the mops and it’s now worth $1 billion.
Mangano holds more than 100 patents for the mop and her other inventions, including "Huggable Hangers" — HVC’s best-selling product as of 2010.
Michelle Lee, the Director of the US Patent Office (and the first woman to hold that position) spoke at her swearing-in ceremony about the importance of having more women involved in STEM fields and getting patents:
I am not advocating for women and girls because I am a woman. I am advocating for women and girls because I understand that we cannot succeed in the global economy with, in effect, one hand tied behind our back.