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Women earn small fraction of patents issued, research shows

A woman puts a test tube down.
Photo: Waltraud Grubitzsch/picture alliance via Getty Image

Women account for less than 13% of all patents applicants worldwide, according to a study by the UK's Intellectual Property Office.

Why it matters: Researchers cite a lack of women working in STEM fields — science, technology, engineering and math — for the uneven ratio.

By the numbers: The proportion of female inventors almost doubled between 1998 and 2017, from 6.8% to 12.7%, the study found.

  • The number of patent applications that name at least 1 woman on their team rose from 12% to 21% during the same period. Still, most female inventorship happens with a single woman on a male-dominated team.
  • Patent applicant teams with at least as many female inventors as males jumped from 3% to 8%.
  • At this rate, researchers don't anticipate hitting overall gender parity until at least 2070.

In the U.S., women make up about 10% of patent holders.

  • Per the study, Russia had the highest percentage — 18% — of female inventors of 10 countries analyzed, while France had 16%, Taiwan and China each had 13% and Canada came in at 10%.

Female applicants were 8.2% more likely to have patents rejected, and 2.5% less likely to appeal rejections, according to analysis by researchers at Yale University.

One level deeper: Female scientists are less than half as likely to receive a patent for their research, per a World Intellectual Property Oraganisation study, which may indicate females are less likely to consider commercializing their products and designs.