Venture Well: What The Patent Gap Tells Us About Diversity In Innovation
In launching his high-tech sensor company, Sensatek, CEO Reamonn Soto had to overcome the engineering challenges of developing wireless transmitters that could withstand the extreme conditions inside gas turbines. But the former Marine with a master’s in aeronautics says what really tested him was navigating the world of intellectual property. The process left him wishing he had found legal partners who understood his business and could have guided him through the patent system. “It’s going to save you a lot of heartache and pain, and a lot of money,” he advises. “And I have the scars to prove it.”
Soto’s ultimate success in that arena is all the more noteworthy given current demographic and socio-economic trends in the U.S. patent system. According to research presented at our recent webinar, Advancing Equity in Innovation: Universities, Entrepreneurs, and the Underrepresentation of Diverse Inventors in the Patent System, Black inventors file for patents at one third the rate of white inventors. (Hispanic inventors file for patents at less than half the rate of Black inventors, while Asian inventors file at twice the rate of white inventors.) Similar patent disparities exist for women, who in 2019 accounted for just 22 percent of U.S. patents, and especially for the less affluent: families in the top 1 percent of income are 10 times more likely to produce patent holders than families in the lower half.
“Closing the patent gap would offer meaningful benefits for individuals and society as a whole,” points out Holly Fechner, a partner at the law firm Covington & Burling and executive director of the Invent Together campaign, which aims to rectify the gender-, race- and income- disparities in invention and patenting. “Increasing the number of women, people of color, and low-income individuals who patent would help close wage gaps. It would increase our gross domestic product. And it would lead to exciting, new, and different invention.”