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The US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) is considering expanding the criteria for eligibility to sit the patent bar exam to help reduce the gender gap in the profession.
Former USPTO director Andrei Iancu wrote to senators this month outlining policy changes under consideration by the office after senators expressed concern over a lack of women patent attorneys.
According to the letter, approximately 30% of the patent attorneys who have registered with the USPTO since October 2019 were women. The finding was based on whether applicants selected “Mr” or “Ms” on their application form.
Iancu, who confirmed his resignation as USPTO director last week, told the senators that the USPTO was considering broadening the criteria that candidates must meet in order to qualify for the exam.
At present, the exam is open to graduates with bachelor’s degrees in 32 subjects, covering a range of technical expertise, such as biology, physics, chemical engineering and microbiology.
Iancu said the USPTO was considering adding more subjects to this list, including aerospace engineering, marine engineering, neuroscience and genetics.
Currently, applicants who hold bachelor’s degrees in these subjects would have to prove they have technical and scientific expertise in one of the 32 “Category A” subjects.
The USPTO could also accept postgraduate degrees in the Category A subjects in order to expand the pool of potential applicants, Iancu said. Finally, the office is considering accepting a combination of core sciences.
“This potential change would allow an applicant to satisfy the requirement with a combination of chemistry, physics and biology classes, as long as one has a lab component,” Iancu said.
Iancu was responding to a December 2020 letter signed by Senators Mazie Hirono, Thom Tillis and Chris Coons, which urged the USPTO to close the “archaic” gender gap in the profession.
The USPTO has previously focused on increasing the number of women inventors and patent filers. Last March, the office unveiled its “expanding innovation hub”, which aims to “demystify” the process around obtaining a patent.
The USPTO had previously found the growth in women inventors since the 1980s to be “sluggish”. In 2016, 21% of patents had at least one woman listed as an inventor, compared to 7% in the 1980s.
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