ChIPs Global Summit’s 2023 opening keynote, “Leading Innovation for All,” included a power panel of four international policymakers who addressed “how inclusion and diversity can unlock innovation worldwide.” Innovation thrives from cross-pollinating ideas among people, including women, who think differently from each other and who come from varied experiences.
Moderator Katherine Minarik (Coinbase) remarked that in the U.S., only about 22% of patents have at least one woman inventor, and the women inventor rate (WIR) — that is, the share of women among all U.S. inventor-patentees — was just under 13% in 2019. Many ChIPs members can remember being the only woman in a boardroom or courtroom, but that is changing, as is the demographic composition of inventorship around the globe.
The U.S. Copyright Office, Intellectual Property Office of Singapore, IP Australia, and U.S. Patent and Trademark Office provide numerous studies illustrating changes in the innovation landscape over the last few decades, with particular focus on women’s involvement. Shira Perlmutter, Register of Copyrights and Director of the U.S. Copyright Office, cited evidence of a shrinking gender gap in the copyright field, as shown by survey data between 1978 and 2020. This study concluded that over 38% of all copyright registrations were granted to women authors, a 10% increase over the prior 20 years. However, authorship across registration categories is varied. For example, Director Perlmutter noted that in books (non-dramatic literary works), women have achieved parity, representing just over 50% of authorship.
But other categories, including technical drawings, still have low levels of women authorship.
Rena Lee, Chief Executive of IPOS described the state of innovation in Singapore as “promising.” In a Singapore study of women in patents conducted with data from the last 20 years, the number of women in inventorship teams has increased by about 57%, but teams including women inventors represent just over 30% of all inventorship teams. Margaret Tregurtha, Deputy Director General of IP Australia, cited a similar study conducted in Australia, showing that female inventorship is growing at varying rates among industries. For example, around 50% of Australian patents in biotechnology and organic fine chemistry are attributed to female inventorship, though other areas including civil engineering remain low.
Director Vidal revealed that even though women are only 13% of all inventors named on U.S. patents, when the U.S. Patent Office worked with women via its Pro Bono Program, female inventorship jumped to 43% within the program. A rejection notice communicates failure to the average person, and many inventors, especially women, do not realize that they may persist past early rejection. When applicants apply for a new patent or trademark, they now receive a welcome letter with information about women’s inventorship initiatives, free lawyers, and information that assists applicants identify other forms of intellectual property that may apply to them. While rejection is often a necessary part of the patent and trademark application process, simple additions, like a welcome letter, are designed to encourage inventors who may not realize that there are opportunities to work with the examiner to amend and improve the application. Director Perlmutter offered similar professional advice to Global Summit attendees: “Listen to differences of opinions because those develop you as a person and help you move forward. Do not be deterred when you run into barriers.”
“Does anyone think we are moving too slowly?,” laughed Director Vidal, after listing the USPTO’s recent initiatives and expanded budget allocated for the same. The USPTO is leaning into opportunities to advise policymakers on industry standards, trade with other countries, and emerging international issues that implicate intellectual property. Director Perlmutter described outreach, including hiring a chief economist, who is doing research into underrepresented areas.
All panelists addressed how widespread use of artificial intelligence tools is forcing national policies to evolve—quickly but with due consideration. Chief Executive Lee described how Singapore’s Copyright Act, passed in 2021, aims to be “in plain English” and that IPOS is “trying to give innovators a sense of where we’re going but not go so fast into regulation that it actually stifles innovation.” Deputy Director Tregurtha explained that IP Australia is trying to put IP information in areas where citizens are looking for information about business, not specifically related to IP, including through podcasts and YouTube.
The next numbers we need
According to Director Vidal, it’s not enough to stimulate innovation, because the ultimate goal is increasing the impact that innovations have in solving real problems that face society. Perhaps we should not just be concerned with quantity of intellectual property registered: but quality of impact. Are women having a disproportionate effect on quality innovations that lead to real-world problem-solving? The implication (for this listener) was that maybe we need data illustrating the representation of female inventors on patents that land in litigation, which could be one indication that the patents-at-issue are having a measurable effect on real-life problems being tackled by the parties litigating them.
Emily DiBenedetto is a litigator at Shaw Keller LLP and co-blogger on https://ipde.com/.