For their article “The Female Inventor Problem and How Lawyers are Helping,” Law360 turned to Drinker Biddle partner Mercedes Meyer for insight into factors hampering women from seeking and earning patents, and what is being done to address them.
Based on a February report by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), the percentage of patents listing at least one female inventor climbed from about 7% in in the 1980s to 21% in 2016, but women accounted for only 12% of all inventors on granted patents in 2016, the most recent year data is available.
Law360 reports that the low representation of female inventors has been attributed in part to the smaller share of women seeking careers in the science and engineering fields, which generate the most patentable inventions. But the USPTO found that even as women are working in science and engineering jobs at higher rates, it’s not leading to extensive increases in women obtaining patents.
“Every company wants to improve diversity, but no one explains the how — how to keep the pipeline diversity rich, how to keep women in and engaged and not lose them along the way,” said Meyer.
According the Meyer, the slow-moving growth can be attributed to implicit biases within companies. After noticing this issue plaguing companies, Meyer set out a few years ago to try to change that by partnering with the Intellectual Property Owners Association (IPO) to develop a toolkit of best practices and resources for boosting the diversity of inventors. IPO plans to unveil the toolkit at its annual meeting on September 26, 2019.
This toolkit will include best practices involving educating researchers on how to access the patent process, showing samples of submitted invention disclosures that became significant inventions, recognizing diverse inventors, and setting rules during brainstorming sessions that require everyone at the table to contribute. This also includes creating affinity programs like female engineering groups or LGBTQ software groups that create a space to raise questions and hash out ideas in a comfortable setting and engaging in community outreach through STEM programs.
Law360 also offered that the small percentage of female inventors may seem like a pipeline issue best addressed by schools and universities, but in-house IP lawyers and outside counsel have a role to play here, too.
And since many small and midsized clients may not have a diversity and inclusion officer, outside counsel can step in and work with clients on identifying barriers that might be limiting their pool of inventors. While companies are learning more about diversity, they still need help with practical applications, where bottlenecks can occur, and how to modify processes and behavior to foster a more inclusive environment, according to Meyer.Meyer added, “If you can make your business run better, have a bigger bottom line or help a client identify a problem they weren’t even aware of, why wouldn’t you as a lawyer raise the issue?”