What do Barbara Askins, Hedy Lamarr, and Stephanie Kwolek all have in common? They are all female inventors! However, when a new invention hits the market we often do not see the people behind the creative process, and so we do not know if a man or woman was behind the creation. Once in a while, we can guess the lack of gender parity in an invention process due to obvious business mistakes. I refer to the blunder of Apple Corporation of not considering the possible reference to feminine hygiene upon naming the first generation of their new innovation at the time, the iPad.
Here’s the question I would like to address in this blogpost; do we find gender parity in all fields of product invention and patenting? I happened to come across a report published by the National Women’s Business Council of the United States. In this report, a quantitative study of the patent applications by gender variables was conducted to determine the gender trends of the patenting process over the last 40 years.
The findings of the study have been quite interesting to review and I wish to discuss a couple of the findings and the implications thereof. First, in which fields have women become increasingly participatory and thus applied for patents and trademarks for their inventions?
“Data processing as applied to Financial, Business Practice, Management, or Cost/Price Determination (705) shows a whopping 172.13% increase from 2008 to 2010. Surgery (604) is in the second place with an increase of 156.36%. Surgery (600) is in the third place with an increase of 129.91%. Data processing as applied to Database and File Management or Data Structures (707) is in the fourth place with an increase of 127.95%. Electrical Computers and Digital Processing Systems as applied to Multicomputer Data Transferring (709) is in the fifth place with an increase of 101.92%.” (NWBC 22)
So what does this mean? This means that since the 2008 recession, women have contributed significantly to the development of software and data processing in regards to business practices. At the same time, they have also become more and more involved in the development of surgical products and procedures to improve the medical field (of which women have been lacking). What’s even more important is the number of women applying for patents in the realm of the software and computer engineer (once classified as a “boys’ club”). Women are contributing new ideas and new products to our economy.
However, with regards to parity, the data points suggest that all is still not well economically.
“The analysis shows a slightly lower percentage of patents by women that were assigned to private companies. 64.97% of all patents with women primary inventors in the period 1976-2010 were assigned to a U.S. non-governmental organization. This is a lower percentage than that for men who assigned 74.98% of patents to private companies. 19.77% of all patents by men were unassigned as compared to 29.41% for women. Together, these results suggest a slight difference between men and women in independent entrepreneurship: women are more likely to be independent entrepreneurs and keep their patents unassigned while men are more likely to be leading the research in businesses and corporations.” (NWBC 26)
It appear, that women are finding it much easier to develop their talents and inventions outside of the corporate system. That women are contributing as independent researchers is wonderful news, but it is also disheartening to learn that the current leaders of industry still seem to be excluding women from developmental circles, forcing women to develop their ideas independently. Such is the state of parity of women in the realm of patents and inventions. I hope that such trends do improve and that women are no longer excluded from corporate R&D units. If not, I fear for the future of industry in the United States.
National Women’s Business Coucil (NWBC), 2012. Intellectual property and women entrepreneurs:Quantitative analysis. Delixus. 22-30.http://nwbc.gov/sites/default/files/IP%20&%20Women%20Entrepreneurs.pdf