Who Invents IT? Women’s Participation in Information Technology Patenting
2012 Update

While a number of studies have documented the underrepresentation of women ininformation technology (IT), few studies have investigated gendered patterns in IT patenting. Patenting, however, is an important measure of innovation and influence in IT and computing. As a result, examining women’s participation in IT patenting is important for helping us understand women’s involvement in the recognized and rewarded aspects of IT innovation, research, and development.

Documenting these trends also helps us move beyond merely counting how many women are in computing professions and toward measuring their meaningful participation in the field. Identifying the current state of affairs in female patenting also can provide a benchmark against which to measure future efforts to increase women’s patenting activities. In addition, examining differences in women’s patenting across industry subcategories and across specific organizations is important for uncovering potential areas for future research — research into “what works” in those companies where women patent more frequently.

The original 2007 report, Who Invents IT? An Analysis of Women’s Participation in Information Technology Patenting, examined the rates at which women have been patenting in information technology (IT), how these rates have evolved between 1980-2005, and how these rates differ across IT industry sub-categories and across specific organizations. This new edition updates those findings, examining U.S. patent data in the intervening five years from 2005-2010. It updates and addresses the following questions:

  • What percentage of IT patents are invented by males, females, and mixed-sex teams?
  • How have these percentages changed during the past five years? How do these changes compare to the findings from the previous report?
  • Do female patenting patterns differ across IT industry subcategories (e.g. Communications and Telecommunications, Computer Hardware, Computer Software, Semiconductors). If so, how and to what extent? Do citation patterns differ for patents invented by male, female, and mixed-sex teams? If so, how and to what extent?
  • Do female patenting patterns differ across specific companies, organizations, and sectors (e.g., government, academic, industry)? If so, how, and to what extent?

In addressing these questions, this report also looks at how some of the trends over the past five years are similar to or different from the previous study.

Summary of findings from the report: 

  • Percentage of patents with at least one female inventor. In the 31-year period covered by this study (1980-2010) approximately 13% of U.S.-invented IT patents have at least one female inventor. This reflects an increase from the previous report (1980-2005) when about 9% of U.S.-invented IT patents had at least one female inventor.
  • Percentage of patents invented by women, when accounting for multiple inventors. Since many patents have multiple inventors, it is more accurate to count only a fraction of the patent as female (for example, a patent with two female inventors and one male inventor counts as 2/3 female and 1/3 male). Counting this way over the 31-year period, 6.1% of the U.S.-invented IT patents were produced by female inventors; 7.5% were produced by women in the last five years.
  • Long-term trends in female patenting. Although the overall level of female participation in IT patents is still relatively low, the trends are quite promising. While, females held only 2% of all IT patents in 1980, their share increased to approximately 6% in 2005 and 8% in 2010.
  • Long-term trends in actual numbers of female patenting (as compared to change in percentages). In general, IT patenting has grown substantially over the 31-year period. For female inventors to increase their share of patenting during this period means that female patenting had to grow even more substantially. For example, overall U.S. IT patenting grew from 26,725 patents in the period from 1980-84 to 203,484 patents in the period from 2006-10. This is a 7.5-fold increase. For the same periods, U.S. female IT patenting grew from 611 to 15,292 patents (a 25-fold increase). These growth multiples also are noteworthy because the percentage of women employed in IT remained relatively flat, declining slightly during the past 31-year time period.

Download the full report here.