Opinions and Editorials

Mar. 4, 2020

Morning Consult: Increasing Diversity in Patenting Is an Imperative for the U.S. Economy by Holly Fechner

Innovation is the lifeblood of the U.S. economy. Innovative industries power more than $8 trillion of U.S. GDP — one-third of our economy’s output — and support millions of jobs. But a substantial pool of innovative talent remains untapped, as women, people of color and low-income individuals are significantly underrepresented as patented inventors. In a recent study of women’s participation in patenting, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office reported that in 2016 women made up 28 percent of the science and engineering workforce but only 12 percent of patent-holding inventors.

Congress took note of these disparities and is starting to take action. In 2018, the Study of Underrepresented Classes Chasing Engineering and Science Success (SUCCESS) Act directed the USPTO, for the first time, to study the gaps in patenting for women and other underrepresented groups and to propose recommendations to encourage patenting among these populations.

The SUCCESS Act report, released last fall, confirmed what other researchers have already found: America’s innovation economy is hamstrung by the lack of diversity among inventors. Women, people of color and lower-income individuals patent inventions at significantly lower rates than their male, white, and wealthier counterparts. Only 20 percent of all U.S. patents today list a woman as an inventor. In a survey of inventors who filed patent applications between 2011 and 2015, African Americans and Hispanics represented only 0.3 percent and 1.4 percent of respondents, despite comprising 11.3 percent and 11.5 percent of the U.S. population respectively.