Virtually all patent applications feature men as women lag behind

Rate of women appearing on patent applications was as low as 17 per cent in Japan and South Africa, and just 20 per cent in Germany and Egypt

June 16, 2024
Source: iStock/ kieferpix

The vast majority of patent applications are still filed by men despite more women working in research, a new study has found.

An Elsevier report found progress in gender representation across science, but the data shows a complex picture, with serious challenges remaining in gender equity in research and innovation.

According to the study, women made up 41 per cent of active researchers globally by 2022 – up from 28 per cent in 2001 and with strong representation in the health sciences.

However, female researchers represent just a third of those in the physical sciences, and are not projected to reach parity with men in mathematics, engineering and computer science until 2052. Women’s participation in the research workforce was found to vary widely across borders – from as high as 52 per cent in Portugal to as low as 22 per cent in Japan.

The report also examines different research outputs, with female-authored papers found to be cited less than those by their male colleagues, and fewer papers involving women being published.

And women were found to file “vastly fewer” patent applications than men. By 2022, 26 per cent of all patent applications had at least one woman on them, compared with 97 per cent with at least one man. At the current rate of progress, it would take nearly 25 years for women to appear on half of all patents.

Elsevier says this is important because patents serve as a protection for intellectual property and patent output is often used as a proxy for a scientist’s contribution innovation.

“The growing share of women in research has not led to a similar share of women in innovation, the arena in which scientific research is transformed and applied to industry and commerce,” it says.

The rate of women appearing on patent applications was as low as 17 per cent in Japan and South Africa, and just 20 per cent in Germany and Egypt. By contrast, 45 per cent of applications in Portugal featured at least one woman.

The report says the persistence of gender disparities in this area highlights the need for strategic interventions, such as financial incentives, preferential funding opportunities and targeted training on how to turn research into patents.

“Implementing policies that remove barriers to participation in the full value chain of research…can enhance women’s contribution to innovation and technological and economic advancement,” it says.

With data showing a clear decline in the proportion of women authors reaching the “mid-career stage”, Elsevier also recommends that the retention of early career female researchers should be prioritised.

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Reader's comments (1)

Given previous discussions about distribution of genders in research fields this should not be a surprise. Start by looking at what % of patent applications come from STEM research compared with [say] education, languages etc? then look at ddistribution of genders in the research communities for those fields. The conclusion then follows.