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March 21, 2024

Why Diverse Voices Matter in Intellectual Property

By Zahra Asadi, Katherine "Kate" Coker

In 1910, less than 1% of patents issued in the United States were granted to women. Female inventors have come a long way since that time — today more women are innovating and applying for patents than ever before. A study published by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in 2019 estimated that the percentage of patents issued with at least one female inventor was 21.9%. Additionally, in 2019, 12.8% of all inventors receiving U.S. patents were women. While that growth is impressive, there is work to be done to bridge the inventorship gender gap.

The number of women inventors is directly tied to the number of women working in an industry, as a main source of innovation is identifying solutions to obstacles, issues, or problems observed in an area. In 2019, women accounted for about 48% of the total workforce and about 27% of the STEM workforce, leading naturally to an increase in patents issued to women inventors.

Representation matters. In order to continue to increase the number of women inventing, applying for and obtaining patents, the number of women working substantively in areas of patentable subject matter, largely STEM fields, must increase. Encouraging young girls to explore their curiosity and interests in STEM fields from an early age begins by dispelling stereotypes and highlighting stories of successful female scientists, engineers and inventors who have defied societal expectations. Additionally, developing and supporting mentorship programs which connect young women to STEM professionals will provide them with essential inspiration and guidance.  

Some trailblazing female inventors:

  • Marian Croak, Ph.D. has over 200 patents, with almost half of those directed to Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP), which made phone calls more reliably and securely transmittable over the internet.
  • Beulah Henry was a prolific inventor with 49 U.S. patents and over 100 inventions credited to her name. She received her first patent at the age of 25 for a vacuum-sealed ice cream freezer.
  • Ellen Ochoa, a veteran of three NASA Space Shuttle flight missions and the first Hispanic-American woman in space, is a co-inventor on three patents, which significantly increased the ability to capture and analyze finely detailed imagery, with applications in space and on Earth.
  • Ann Tsukamoto, PhD., is a stem-cell researcher and co-inventor on 12 patents, including a process for human stem cell isolation, which has many implications in cancer research.

In the ever-evolving landscape of innovation, the need for diverse perspectives has never been more crucial. Innovation can be found anywhere, not just in STEM. In 1959, Ruth Handler created the first Barbie® doll for her children so they could imagine a future where a “little girl could be anything she wanted to be.” Since the Barbie doll’s inception, over 300 patents have been granted to different aspects of her, including the way her limbs move, her ability to stand, accessories for her, and even her hair. During this Women’s History Month, let’s apply Handler’s philosophy to increase the number of women entering STEM careers, innovating, and patenting their inventions. The diverse perspectives of women can only advance innovation.