Originally posted to https://www.law360.com/articles/1534033/women-at-ford-ge-outliers-in-top-cos-wide-ip-gender-gap
By Dani Kass
Law360 (September 26, 2022, 8:40 PM EDT) — The percentage of patents by women inventors at Ford, GE and AT&T surpasses the percentage of women in technical jobs there, a ratio more than two dozen top innovating companies couldn’t match, according to a new study from a law professor and key political adviser.
Santa Clara University School of Law professor Colleen Chien compared top companies’ average women inventor rate from 2007 through 2019 to the number of women the companies told the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission they had in technical positions in 2020-2021, and found the latter far surpassed the former for most companies, according to a study published Wednesday.
“Though the comparison is inexact — the years of coverage are different, and variation in the way that companies report technical workers may make absolute comparisons among firms difficult — the overall message is clear, and somber: In the vast majority of settings, women are inventing at a fraction of the rate — in many cases, less than 50% — at which they are employed in technical roles,” Chien concluded, naming the difference the “innovator-inventor gap.”
On the high end of the spectrum, Ford Motor Co.’s rate of women receiving patents was 200% of the percentage of women in technical roles. On the other end, Caterpillar Inc. and Deere & Co. had just 16% of inventors compared to technicians. However, Ford’s worker percentage was just 5% women, compared to 37% and 32% at Caterpillar and Deere, respectively.
General Electric Co. likewise has a small percentage of women in technical roles — 8% — but its inventor rate comparison was at 138%. The only other companies to reach a comparable rate were AT&T Inc. with 129% and Oracle Corp. Inc. with 100%.
Qualcomm Inc., Texas Instruments Inc., Verizon Inc. and Procter & Gamble Co. were in the 81% to 92% range, followed by Honeywell International, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 3M Co., Bristol-Meyers Squibb, Abbott Laboratories, IBM Corp., Amazon Inc., Intel Corp., Alphabet Inc. and Boeing Co., which were between 50% and 75%.
Joining Caterpillar and Deere at the bottom were Exxon Mobil Corp., Microsoft Corp., Cisco Systems Inc., Lockheed Martin Corp., Raytheon Technologies, Analog Devices Inc. and Apple Inc., which ran from 28% to 48%.
“Despite the strong case for diverse participation in inventorship and innovation … the disparities remain stark across companies,” wrote Chien, who although writing the paper as an academic, also serves as a U.S. Department of Commerce adviser, and served as a member of the Biden-Harris transition team, and was an adviser for the White House under former President Barack Obama.
Chien’s paper argues diversity is key to having progress in innovation for reasons familiar to patent owners: providing novel insights by having people with different points of view approach problems and finding nonobvious, innovative connections.
She found that women make up nearly half of workforces and more than a quarter of science, technology, engineering and math workers, while receiving only 13% of patents and 2% of venture capital funding.
To explain the disparity, Chien pointed to a series of factors, including women questioning whether their invention is worth a patent and their evaluators likewise overly scrutinizing them.
“[U.S. Patent and Trademark Office] evaluators may be unconsciously biased when evaluating female inventors,” she wrote. “But diverse innovators may also disproportionately decline — to submit an idea, apply for a patent, or persist in the face of rejection.”
In order to fix this division, Chien suggested there be a “more explicit sense of progress that explicitly acknowledges and prioritizes diversity in innovation,” including “institutionalizing and broadening” diversity efforts at the USPTO, creating a public-private clearinghouse for innovation diversity pilots and having a periodic survey that can be used to shape future innovation diversity initiatives.
“Such a shift would represent a break with traditional conceptions of patent law as being purely about the promotion of innovation, regardless of by whom or in what setting,” she wrote.
Google’s head of patents, Mike Lee, said in a statement Monday the company is proud to have signed a pledge aimed at increasing diversity in innovation and vowed to “continue to work toward ensuring underrepresented inventors are fully engaged in the patenting process.”
Representatives for each of the remaining companies either didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment Monday, or did not provide substantive comments.
–Editing by Lakshna Mehta.
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