Moneyish: Why women of color are less likely to get patents
This post originally appeared in Moneyish on July 25, 2018.
Women of color are less likely than white women and men to get U.S. patent rights for their work, according to a recent report from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. The study notes that women are “far less likely than men” to hold patents, while “data show that people of color are particularly unlikely to hold intellectual property.”
Under 19% of patents from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office had a woman inventor attached, according to 2015 data noted by Bloomberg. And while 9.6% of businesses owned by white people had at least one intellectual property holding, all but one racial/ethnic group reported lower rates: That proportion was 8.8% for black- or African-American-owned businesses and 7.9% for those owned by Hispanics, for example. “Given these trends, the share of firms owned by women of color with intellectual property is likely even lower than the shares for all women or all people of color,” the authors wrote.
Yet on the whole, the number of women-owned firms increased 847,000 in 1997 to 1.1 million in 2015. And women of color have actually fueled much of the growth among women-owned businesses, according to the report, making up two-thirds of the overall growth in that period. The percentage of women-owned firms owned by women of color rose from 15.5% to about 24.7% from 2002 to 2015.
One driving force in the patent gender gap is women’s underrepresentation in the patent-heavy science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) industries: While women made up nearly half the workforce (47%) in 2015, they held just 24% of STEM jobs, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce. Women entrepreneurs also receive lower levels of startup capital than men.
When we don’t have patents from a diverse range of people, “you get solutions that only work for a small portion of the population,” and challenges facing other groups aren’t addressed, report co-author Jessica Milli told Bloomberg. “Innovation is how we come up with solutions to the most pressing challenges that are facing our society today,” she said.
But women innovators appear undeterred. Despite the gender imbalance in intellectual property rights, the IWPR report said, “women-owned businesses still report actively engaging in innovative activities and generally do so at rates at least as high as men-owned businesses.” These activities include adding a new feature, making it easier for customers to use a product, and implementing changes to “materials, equipment, software, or other components in order to improve the performance of a good.”
To address the challenges outlined in the report, the authors suggested boosting girls’ and women’s access to “programs that support innovation activities and entrepreneurship in highly profitable industries,” as well as women’s participation in patent-intensive STEM fields like engineering. The report also highlighted the importance of funds targeting women- and women of color-owned businesses, as well as improving the availability of data on female entrepreneurs.