Panelists Provide Perspectives on The Gender Gap in Stem Education, Funding and Inventorship

By Rebecca Tapscott
September 17, 2020

“Panelists discussed a ‘leaky pipeline’ that is increasing the gender gap for women inventors. Shimabuku noted that, as of 2017, women made up about 30% of the science and engineering workforce, but only made up about 13% of inventors, which indicated that women inventers are being lost along the pipeline.”

As IPWatchdog’s Virtual CON2020 continues, in a session on Day 7 titled “The Gender Gap: Addressing Stem Education, Funding & Inventorship,” a panel discussed the current underrepresentation of women and possible steps forward in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) disciplines, patent professions and inventing. The panelists included Hope Shimabuku, the Director of the USPTO Texas Office; Megan Carpenter, Dean of the University of NH Franklin Pierce School of Law; Efrat Kasznik, President of Foresight Valuation Group; Delicia Clarke, Associate at WilmerHale; and Sandra Nowak, Assistant Chief IP Counsel at 3M.

USPTO Initiatives

Initially, Shimabuku discussed some developments at the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), such as the recent creation of the National Council for Expanding American Innovation (NCEAI), and some actions being taken to address the disparity between men and women inventors. Shimabuku explained that the Study of Underrepresented Classes Chasing Engineering and Science (SUCCESS) Act of 2018 aimed to ask the USPTO to “study the right of patenting with respect to men [and] with respect to women, minorities, veterans, and low income individuals…and to find out what the barriers to patenting” to the parties in these classes of inventors.  Shimabuku also explained that the USPTO studied and published a report, “Progress and Potential”, on women inventor-patentees, which updated the USPTO’s 2019 report of the same name.  The Report revealed that of all the inventors listed on patents, only about 12% are women. Noting that Congress was also looking for ways to “change the narrative and to accelerate the progress that women are currently making and encourage them to continue to work to patent in various arenas,” Shimabuku explained that there were two congressional hearings in the spring of 2019 examining the issue.

Leaky Pipeline

Several of the panelists discussed a “leaky pipeline” that is increasing the gender gap for women inventors. Shimabuku noted that, as of 2017, women made up about 30% of the science and engineering workforce, but only made up about 13% of inventors, which indicated that women inventers are being lost along the pipeline. However, on a positive note, Shimabuku explained that women made up 17.3% of all new inventor-patentees in 2019, which represents an increase at a rate of 4% per year since 2014.

Carpenter explained that closing the gap in intellectual property (IP) professions is important for gender diversity in innovation, and it is up to universities and law schools to play an active role in promoting women. Noting that only about 20% of IP professionals are women, Carpenter also noted universities and law schools need to address hiring pipelines as a way to promote diversity, as well as the accessibility of legal education programs and seed grants for women.

Clarke addressed the topic of leaky pipelines in the UK, i.e. the number of females entering the
STEM field versus the women invention rate. Clarke noted that only 9% of graduates qualifying in core-STEM subjects are female.

Women Entrepreneurs

Kasznik explained that funding is the “last mile” in the gender gap. She noted that female venture capital (VC) funding has been limited to 2%-3% of capital invested between the years of 2008 and 2020. She said that the reason women get less funding may be due to the fact that women are missing from the VC ecosystem and from corporate leadership. She also noted that structural and cultural changes are being made and “while it may take a decade or more to be reflected in the funding statistics, industry is taking important steps in the right direction toward improving the landscape of women entrepreneurs.” For example, Kasznik explained, changes are taking place to address women leadership and funding gaps, such as an increase in women representation on Boards, women investing in other women, and women graduating from business schools.


The Author

Rebecca Tapscott

Rebecca Tapscott is an intellectual property attorney who has joined IPWatchdog as our Staff Writer. She received her Bachelor of Science degree in chemistry from the University of Central Florida and received her Juris Doctorate in 2002 from the George Mason School of Law in Arlington, VA.

Prior to joining IPWatchdog, Rebecca has worked as a senior associate attorney for the Bilicki Law Firm and Diederiks & Whitelaw, PLC. Her practice has involved intellectual property litigation, the preparation and prosecution of patent applications in the chemical, mechanical arts, and electrical arts, strategic alliance and development agreements, and trademark prosecution and opposition matters. In addition, she is admitted to the Virginia State Bar and is a registered patent attorney with the United States Patent and Trademark Office. She is also a member of the American Bar Association and the American Intellectual Property Law Association.

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There are currently 1 Comment comments.

  1. Efrat Kasznik September 21, 2020 12:16 am

    Thank you, Rebecca, for the excellent summary of our panel! When it comes to closing the gender gap there is no “silver bullet” – change is a function of addressing all the barriers holding women back.