Director of US Patent Office Calls for More Women Inventors

Woman InventorMichelle K. Lee, the director of the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), has called for more female inventors, saying that that the US “cannot succeed in the global economy with, in effect, one hand tied behind our back.”

Patents are a form of intellectual property (IP) – a kind of intangible asset.

Lee noted that

the entire U.S. economy today relies on some form of IP. IP ­intensive industries support at least 40 million jobs, or more than a quarter of all U.S. jobs. They also contribute more than 5 trillion dollars, or more than a third, of our gross domestic product.

In a speech at the University of Texas at Austin for a panel on “Invention – Does Gender Matter,” Lee said that women are not receiving patents at a rate anywhere close to men.”

Why Aren’t There More Women Patent-Holders?

Although the USPTO itself doesn’t collect demographic data about patent applicants, Lee said other studies have shown:

  • That the vast majority of patents go to men;
  • The share going to women is rising over time, but less than 15% of patents go to women and
  • At the current rate of convergence, it will take another 140 years for women to obtain 50% of granted patents.

According to Freakonomics, “Only 7.5 percent of regular patent and 5.5 percent of commercial patent holders are female.”

Lee, who is the first woman to lead the USPTO and who has degrees in electrical engineering and computer science as well as in law, suggested that one reason for the shortage of female patent holders may be the dearth of women pursuing STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) degrees.

In hopes of getting more young women interested in STEM fields, the USPTO has partnered with the Girl Scouts of America to create a patch on IP and innovation. To earn the patch, young women need to learn about the basics of patents, trademarks, and copyrights and then go out and create something.

The Movie Star Inventor

As CNN reported, one famous female inventor was Hedy Lamarr, who was recently honored by a Google Doodle.

Lamarr was a Hollywood actress called "the world's most beautiful woman."

But she grew tired of just being known for her looks. "Any girl can be glamorous. All you have to do is stand still and look stupid," she once said.

Her first marriage was to an arms dealer, so she knew something about military technology. Drawing on this, she partnered with a composer to create a frequency-hopping technology (based on the 88 keys in a piano) to keep the US’s enemies from being able to detect radio messages during wartime.

She and her partner received US Patent No. 2,292,387 in 1942. The invention formed the basis for cell phone networks, Bluetooth, and WiFi.

As noted by the Women Inventors website, women are also responsible for inventions such as:

  • Windshield wipers
  • Disposable diapers
  • The first computer language
  • The Mars Rover

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