Female Inventorship: Some good news and some bad news

31 May 2016

The UK Intellectual Property Office has produced a fascinating report on the gender balance in inventors, and trends over the past 35 years or so. They have looked at UK patent applications and the people named on them, to draw some encouraging, but also some rather depressing, statistics.

Firstly the good news: the proportion of female inventors has doubled since 1980.

Now the bad news: the total numbers still look very low. The most recent statistics show that women account for only 8% of inventors named on all UK patent applications. 

Gender Profiles in UK patenting infographic by UKIPO

Source: UK Intellectual Property Office "Gender profiles in UK patenting: infographic.

Looking at the finer detail, there are some interesting variations, both geographically and by subject area. According to the data, the UK had a lower proportion of female inventors than France, but a higher proportion than USA, Germany and Japan. Within the UK, there are also large regional variations – with London showing the highest proportion of female inventors (at 11.5% for 2000 – 2015), much higher than other areas, such as East Midlands (5.7% for the same timeframe). 

The subject matter split is also rather stark. In the biotechnology, pharmaceuticals and organic fine chemistry subject areas, the proportion of female inventors was around 23-26%, while patent applications in some mechanical engineering subjects had proportions of around 3%. 

The UK Government has, for many years, been aware of the relatively low proportion of women studying STEM subjects and entering the workforce. However up until recently, it has found it very difficult to answer questions on the ‘output’ of women in the STEM workforce – e.g. how many females are named as inventors in patent applications, compared to men. New gender inference techniques have now made this possible, and the UK IPO informatics team prepared this study using them. The author of this report hopes that this will renew Government efforts to encourage females to study science and engineering, and pursue careers in these areas. 

The full report and an interesting infographic can be found here: www.gov.uk/government/publications/gender-profiles-in-uk-patenting-an-analysis-of-female-inventorship

Alex Rogers

Alex Rogers


Our Expert
Alex Rogers
Alex Rogers
Location: Bristol (UK)

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