Gender profiles in UK patenting: An analysis of female inventorship

About (English version): 

The Government Office for Science1, supported by organisations such as Innovate UK2, the Research Councils3, the Royal Academy of Engineering4, the IET5 and campaigns such as WISE6 and WiSET7 have, for many years, been inspiring girls and women to study and build careers in the STEM fields – science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Statistical surveys from these bodies8 highlight the impact of their work within the education sector with the number of females attaining STEM vocational qualifications increasing from 8% in 2011 to 24% in 2013. The same surveys also highlight the gender demographic transition to the workplace with women making up only 13% of the STEM workforce and women accounting for only 5.5% of engineering professionals.

Diversity statistics regarding the number of women studying STEM subjects in the education sector, up to and including degree level, are quite comprehensive because gender data is readily available regarding the number of women studying these subjects (‘inputs’) and those receiving qualifications (‘outputs’). When looking at industry however the statistical research in this field primarily relies on ‘inputs’, such as the number of women employed in a given industry. Very little data is available on the ‘outputs’ of work undertaken by women within STEM industries.

For this reason, a recurring question that has been asked of the IPO over the past few years – by Government colleagues, journalists and diversity and equality groups amongst others – relates to patent statistics about female inventors. Patents are well known as a measurable ‘output’ of STEM industries and being able to determine the level of invention of female inventors is highly desirable. It is a legal requirement of the Patents Act 1977 that each inventor is named on the patent application. Disclosing an inventor’s gender, or any other protected (diversity) characteristics, is obviously not a legal requirement. This means that it has not been possible to provide statistical information about the gender of inventors named on patent applications.

However, recent gender inference work by several academic researchers has changed this. It is now possible, with a high degree of confidence, to infer the gender of inventors and therefore provide some statistical analysis about the patenting activity of female inventors.

This report outlines the approach undertaken by the Informatics Team at the IPO and provides a preliminary study looking at the type of patent analysis that can be undertaken using inferred gender data. 

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