Stanford University Study Finds a Gender Gap in Academic Authors Who Get to Share in Patents

New research undertaken by an interdisciplinary team of Stanford Law and Stanford Medicine students, looks at the overlap between biomedical research paper authors and those authors who go on to be named inventors of their research on patents. Among the findings is a gender discrepancy between male and female authors, with male authors receiving patents more frequently.

Academic authors are increasingly seeking to patent their own findings. This trend has grown in recent years to the extent that more than one in four publications which are cited by a patent will be a “self-citation” from a patent inventor who is also an author on the cited paper. Researchers found that a large share of these self-cited publications excluded their first authors from patent inventorship. First authors perform the actual experiments and analyses for the study. They are generally trainees, students, and professional scientists under the guidance and mentorship of a last author who typically runs the lab, determines its scientific direction, and writes the papers and grants, this finding revealed a bit more about the dynamic between the two groups.

When the researchers incorporated gender into this analysis of the scientific hierarchy, they found a significant and persistent gap between male and female author-inventors. This is despite real advancements in improving gender balance within biomedical research.

Specifically, they found that first authors have been named on patents with the last authors about 30 percent of the time. And they are alone on patents about 7 percent of the time. But last authors alone (without the first authors) have been named on patents about 30 percent of the time as well.

The gender gap among last authors is 25 percent favoring men. The gap between female first authors and male first authors is smaller, at around 10-15 percent.

“Researchers dedicate their lives to generating high-quality research, often for little reward other than acknowledgement and an opportunity to share their findings,” notes Ishan Kumar, a JD/PhD student in stem cell biology and regenerative medicine at Stanford University who led the research team. “In cases where they may have discovered or developed a finding with practical value, ensuring there is fair access to credit and perhaps even financial benefits at the tail end is critical to incentivize them to risk spending years of effort on a project.”

The full study, “Who Counts as an Inventor? Seniority and Gender in 430,000 Biomedical Inventor–Researcher Teams,” was published on the website of the journal Nature Biotechnology. It may be accessed here.

Filed Under: Gender GapResearch/StudySTEM Fields


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