Do Women Face Discrimination From Examiners at the U.S. Patent Office?

An analysis of patent applications by researchers at the Yale School of Management found that women inventors are less likely to have their patent applications approved than men.The study found that only 10 percent of patent-holders are women. Even in the life sciences, where women earn more than half of new Ph.D.s, only 15 percent of inventors listed on patents are women.

A recent bulk data release by the Patent Office allowed the Yale researchers to trace the histories of 2.7 million patents issued between 2001 and 2014. They found that overall, women inventors’ patents were more likely to be rejected than those filed by teams of men. When rejected, women’s applications were 2.5 percent less likely to be appealed. When applications were granted, women’s patents often had more words added that reduced the scope of their patents.

Furthermore, the researchers found that women inventors with common names that revealed their gender had an 8.2 percent lower chance of getting their patents approved. But the difference in probability of approval fell to 2.8 percent for those with rare names, where it was tougher for an examiner to identify the applicant’s gender.

These preliminary results suggest that “essentially, women inventors must pass greater degrees of scrutiny,” said Kyle Jensen, associate dean and senior lecturer at the Yale School of Management and a co-author of the study.

The authors suggest that to level the playing field, applications could list only the inventors’ initials, and exchanges between the applicants and examiner could be restricted to a platform that ensures anonymity.

The study, “Gender Differences in Obtaining and Maintaining Patent Rights,” was published in the journal Nature Biotechnology. It may be accessed here.

Filed Under: Gender GapResearch/StudySTEM Fields


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