Women in Academia File More Patents

Women inventors at universities are also more collaborative and multidisciplinary.
Women in Academia File More Patents
MORE WOMEN ACROSS THE GLOBE are filing patents with the U.S. Patent and Trade Office, particularly in academia, according to a new study that examines 4.6 million utility patents issued between 1976 and 2013. It shows that the percentage of patents filed by women rose from an average of 2 percent to 3 percent across all areas to 10 percent in industry, 12 percent among individuals, and 18 percent in academia.

Cassidy R. Sugimoto of the School of Informatics and Computing at Indiana University in Bloomington led the study. Her co-authors include Chaoqun Ni of the School of Library and Information Science at Simmons College in Boston, Massachusetts; Jevin D. West of the Information School at the University of Washington in Seattle; and Vincent Larivière of the University of Montreal in Canada.

“We had thought the percentage might fall lower, since patenting is still considered ‘optional’ in terms of promotion in academia," says Sugimoto. However, the role of patenting in academia has grown since the 1980 Bayh-Dole Act, which transferred intellectual property revenue based on federally funded research discoveries from government to universities. Many university technology transfer offices also have set policies that encourage women’s innovation.

In addition, the study shows that patents from women frequently include contributors from a variety of fields, suggesting that women inventors are more collaborative and multidisciplinary. Women in academia also might benefit from the intellectual communities of large universities, whereas women in industry might experience more isolation.

Even so, Sugimoto notes that while women make up one-third of all researchers in the STEM fields, they aren’t filing for one-third of U.S. patents. The researchers also found that when patents bear the names of women, they are cited in other filings less often than patents filed under male names.

Sugimoto’s study cites research showing that 42 countries, primarily in the Middle East and Africa, report no patents with women’s names. A higher proportion of patents are filed by women in Eastern Europe, Asia, and several African countries, reflecting greater gender parity in countries that are or were communist. The study tracked female patent filers across 185 countries.

“The Academic Advantage: Gender Disparities in Patenting” can be found in the online journal PLOS ONE at journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0128000.