Senators unveil bill to close 'patent gap' faced by women


Muireann Bolger

Senators unveil bill to close 'patent gap' faced by women

Mark Van Scyoc /

Proposed legislation aimed at closing the gap that women and minorities face when procuring patent rights could direct the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) to collect demographic data from applicants and make this public.

US Senators Thom Tillis, Mazie Hirono and US representatives Nydia Velázquez and Steve Stivers introduced the Inventor Diversity for Economic Advancement (IDEA) Act of 2021 on March 9.

The IDEA Act is cosponsored by Senators Chris Coons and Patrick Leahy. The same coalition of senators and US representatives first unveiled the IDEA Act in 2019.

If passed, the bill could require the USPTO to issue reports on the data collected and make this available to the public, allowing external researchers to conduct their own analyses and offer insights into the various patent gaps in society.

Women and minorities apply for and obtain patents at significantly lower rates than their male, white counterparts, argued Senator Tillis when launching the 2021 bill.

According to the USPTO, only 22% of US patents list at least one woman as an inventor and a 2019 study by the UK intellectual Property Office revealed that women make up only 13% of all inventors worldwide.

African American and Hispanic college graduates apply for patents at approximately half the rate of their white counterparts, a study by the National Academy of Inventors confirmed in 2018.

“We must work to close this gap to ensure all Americans have the opportunity to innovate, and I am proud to reintroduce this bipartisan, bicameral legislation to get a better understanding of the background of individuals who apply for patents with the USPTO,” said Tillis.

“Our nation is home to millions of inventors—and we must do more to encourage women and minorities to secure patent rights. To keep leading in technological innovation, we must harness the potential of all Americans,” said Senator Hirono.

“The IDEA Act will give us insight into what policies we can implement to support underrepresented groups in applying for patents, and help policymakers address these inequalities.”

“The reintroduction of the IDEA Act is a crucial step toward ensuring that our nation’s inventors have equal access to our innovation ecosystem, regardless of gender, race, or income,” Holly Fechner, executive director of Invent Together, said.

For too long, researchers have used names and zip codes as proxies for gender, race, and income to study the diversity gaps in patenting, noted Nicole Mason, president and CEO of the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. “The IDEA Act will provide us with the information needed to better understand and address the patent disparities among women, people of colour, and other underrepresented groups.”

“As America’s leading research universities know, the best science requires all the best minds available, and the innovation economy that stems from university-based research grows faster when all inventors have access to markets for their innovations,” said Association of American Universities president Barbara Snyder.

The Act, she said, will provide tools to create more equitable pathways to support inventors of all backgrounds.

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D&I, gender equality, USPTO, patents, IDEA, inventors, research, innovation