A new report demonstrates that female-dominated inventor teams in biomedical sciences are more likely to invent female-focused inventions, but a lack of majority female inventor teams means society is missing out.
Last week, the Harvard Business School published a report that confirms what we might anecdotally expect: women have been under-represented as inventors of biomedical patents for decades. However, the study goes further than this by presenting new data showing that when women do invent, they are substantially more likely to invent female-focused inventions. It follows that, at least in part due to the gender gap in biomedical sciences, society has not benefitted from potentially thousands of inventions relating to diseases, physiological processes, and genetics – especially those in the area of women’s health.
The report, published in the journal Science on 18 June 2021, analysed the subject matter of almost half a million US biomedical patents filed in the period 1976 through to 2010, and linked this to the gender composition of their inventor team. The report found that patents with all-female inventor teams were 35% more likely than all-male inventor teams to patent inventions relating to women’s health issues, and patents with female-dominated inventor teams (ie, ≥ 50% female inventors) were 18% more likely than male-dominated inventor teams to patent inventions relating to women’s health issues.
Whilst the proportion of female-majority inventor teams of biomedical patents grew between 1976 and 2010 from 6.3% to 16.2%, the actual number of US patents granted to majority-female inventor teams in 2010 (n = 3014), was still lower than the number of patents granted to male-majority inventor teams in the same field back over thirty years ago (n = 3347 in 1976). This disparity shows that we still have work to do in bridging the inventor gender gap in this field. More generally, the report noted that even in 2021, only 13% of US patent inventors were women (and this is across all fields, not just biomedical science). The authors state: “if all the patents invented between 1976 and 2010 had been produced by men and women equally, there would have been around 6500 more female-focused inventions”.
As patenting activity in this field generally tracks with research output, the authors of the report also analysed over 2 million biomedical papers published in the PubMed database between 2002 and 2020. They found that research by all-female teams was about 12% more likely to focus on the health needs of women, and that discoveries by all-female teams targeted diseases that affect 47% more women and are more than 40% more likely to describe an idea that would be evaluated by a clinical trial that enrols only women. The sobering conclusion of this analysis was that “[i]f research articles were produced equally by men and women, then from 2002 to 2020 there would have potentially been 40,000 more female-focused discoveries.”
This report is an important reminder that patent activity and commercialisation are not immune from the repercussions of the gender gap in science and technology, and that this inequality impacts how individuals and societies as a whole benefit from inventions.
Jessica Chadbourne PhD
Associate, Patent Attorney
Jessica has established herself as an emerging leader in strategic patenting advice, being named as an IP Rising Star in 2019 by Managing Intellectual Property.
Jessica’s patent practice covers a broad range of complex technologies, including pharmaceutical and organic chemistry, industrial catalysis, polymer and coatings chemistry, nuclear chemistry, and materials chemistry.
Jennifer Enmon PhD, JD
Special Counsel Patent Attorney (Registered in US, AU & NZ; EU Qualified) Trade Mark Attorney, AU & NZ
Jennifer has been advising clients on life sciences related patent matters for over 15 years.
Jennifer is a registered Patent Attorney in Australia, New Zealand and the United States and is a qualified Patent Attorney in Europe. She is also a registered Trade Mark Attorney in Australia and New Zealand.