This past 11 February marked a special day in our calendars - the International Day of Women and Girls in Science. Celebrated since 2016 by the United Nations, the day aims to raise awareness of the gender gap in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields.
Everyone working in STEM fields needs to be able to protect their inventions. But it's no secret that historically it wasn't easy for women inventors, who often had to resort to their male partners to file a patent. In fact, it wasn't until 1809 that the first woman was granted a patent in the USA. Thankfully, since then the playing field between men and women inventors has become more level. A database developed by WIPO helps us to better understand the trends regarding women inventors listed in patent applications under the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT).
Below is a graph detailing the percentage of applications with at least one woman inventor from 2000 to 2020, based on data from the 38 EPO member states. The good news is that - as you can see - there is a general upward trend, with an all-time high in 2017 of over 25% of PCT applications listing at least one woman inventor.
Figure 1 - Proportion of applications with at least one woman inventor in EPO member states from 2000-2020
Similarly, the database provides us with the overall percentage of women inventors in PCT patent applications. The graph below (also based on data from the 38 EPO member states) again shows a general upward trend and a peak in 2017 with approximately 17% of inventors being women. So, we can see that the gender gap is closing, albeit slowly.
Figure 2 - Proportion of women inventors in EPO member states from 2000-2020
WIPO also uses another indicator to analyse the gender gap in international patent applications filed under the PCT - the percentage of applications with at least one woman inventor by technical field. Using WIPO's IP Statistics and Data Centre, we looked at which areas of technology have the highest percentage of applications from at least one woman inventor. All the technical fields show an upward trend. Of the top eight fields, biotechnology came out on top, with 58% of all applications listing at least one woman inventor in 2020 (see Figure 3 below). The graph also shows the vital role women play in other life sciences such as pharmaceuticals, organic fine chemistry, food chemistry and analysis of biological materials.
Figure 3 - Proportion of applications with at least one woman inventor by technology (click to enlarge)
Want to delve even deeper? Then have a look at the study on gender profiles in worldwide patenting conducted by the UK Intellectual Property Office (UKIPO) back in 2016. The study is compatible with PATSTAT and the name-gender dataset can be imported into a PATSTAT database for further analysis. You can also refer to this discussion forum post and to the presentation associated with the UKIPO's study for more information.
All this data points to the importance of women innovators and their inventions, especially in STEM fields. The more female inventors are recognised, the more school-age girls will be inspired to become innovators themselves and the more the gender gap will narrow. So, here's to women inventors - may we know them, may we be them, may we celebrate them.