Posted on Monday 29 May 2017 by Cruickshank Intellectual Property

The gender gap while not a new discussion, its discourse is one which remains vital and requires constant examination. While many significant improvements have been made in the last number of years, the gender gap in patenting is one area which requires more attention as female innovators are constantly under-represented in this field of Intellectual Property.

In a study conducted last year by the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) they found that while substantial improvements were evident, there is still a long way to go to narrow this gap. In fact, through their research they concluded that with this current rate of progress there would be no gender balance until at least 2080! Quite stark reading if found to be true!
Through their investigation, they found that 29% of international patent applications filed through the Patent Corporation Treaty (PCT) included at least one female inventor compared to the figure of 17% found in 1995. While seen as encouraging, an increase of 12% over a 21-year period shows there is still a long way to go. Francis Gurry, Director General of WIPO following these results called for more action, asking ‘policy makers around the world to prioritise fostering innovation among all members of their societies, such as via the promotion of science, technology, engineering and mathematics for female students.’
Similarly, last year the Institute for Women’s Policy Research conducted a study looking at women inventors and patent applications in the USA and they also found huge gaps in this patenting activity. Pooling data from 1977 until 2010 they found fewer than 20% of all patents having at least one woman inventor. Much of their research also found that the typical areas in which women held patents tended to revolve around jewellery and apparel.
With many debates surrounding the reason behind this gender gap, many researchers tend to attribute it to the shortage of women studying in the fields of science, technology, engineering and maths, collectively termed as STEM. Such thoughts echo the calls of Francis Gurry to promote this area.
In Ireland, considerable efforts have been made by various groups to promote the importance of STEM education and ensure its teaching is of the highest international standard. Expertise in these subjects fosters that sense of innovation and can provide foundations for future prosperity.
Negative stereotyping may be one reason there is a shortage of women participating in these areas, the idea that the subjects of STEM are not for girls. While untrue, this unfortunate stigma may discourage young women applying to these areas of study. Parents also have a significant influence in their children’s decisions and their lack of knowledge in STEM career opportunities may affect the educational route in which their child chooses. In a 2015 Accenture report more than half of 1,500 young women (between 11-18 years of age) surveyed claimed their parents were the biggest influence on the subjects they studied in school. They also found that between the 500 parents they surveyed in Ireland and the UK only 1 in 7 felt they were informed on different career options which would be available. If the gender gap in this field is not closed it will eventually create an effect on our economic growth. If we do not have enough skilled workers in this field it will in no doubt hinder our performance on both a domestic and global scale, and with Ireland fast becoming a hub for Technological growth it is imperative to act now more than ever.
The good news is however Ireland has fully embraced these issues, and we are constantly striving to promote the development of STEM and further provide initiatives and active participation for the young female innovators of today. For example the ‘I Wish’ campaign is aimed at encouraging young women to pursue careers in the STEM field. This year they held an event for over 4,000 female Secondary School students with a showcase of talks and demonstrations featuring female leaders from companies such as Facebook and Google. Intel Ireland are also paving the way for young women by offering the ‘Women in Technology Scholarship Programme.’ These are just two examples from the numerous initiatives that are being offered in Ireland to further promote gender equality and empower women.
After-all some of the most successful inventions and patents can be accredited to women including CCTV, electric refrigerator, car window-wipers and computer software. If the current opportunities and campaigns continue, not just in Ireland but worldwide we will hopefully see this gender gap in patenting narrow and allow for more women to participate in the world of Intellectual Property.