Patent Diversity Project: Addressing Racial and Gender Disparities in the U.S. Patent System

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[co-author: Na Hye Kim]

Recent studies show a great disparity in the number of U.S. patents issued to women and people of color. A 2020 report published by the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) found that, despite making up more than half of the U.S. population, women only represent 12.8% of United States inventor-patentees. The Institute for Women’s Policy Research reported in 2016 that less than 8% of issued patents named women as the primary inventor. In 2018, researchers at Yale University found after examining the prosecution and maintenance histories of approximately 2.7 million U.S. patent applications that women patent applicants have less favorable outcomes than men – women’s patent applications are more likely to be rejected than those of men, and those rejections are less likely to be appealed. While the gender gap faced by women inventors is decreasing gradually, at the current rate it will take more than 100 years to reach gender parity in the U.S patenting process.

There is an even greater lack of parity for patents naming racial minorities as an inventor, with the most significant disparities existing for African American and Latinx inventors. It comes as no surprise that issues of income inequality and systemic racism in education and employment opportunities have contributed to these disparities. Studies have found that children who lack access to quality STEM education, financial stability, and exposure to innovation during childhood are less likely to become inventors. Lack of awareness about the patent process along with the difficulty and costs associated with pursuing a patent can also be significant obstacles for minority inventors. As a 2019 USPTO report highlighted, reducing USPTO costs, particularly those related to legal representation, could improve access to patents for underrepresented inventors.

In collaboration with the Patent Diversity Project at Cardozo Law School, Proskauer’s patent lawyers are striving to redress these gender and racial inequities and increase the number of U.S. patents issued to women and people of color by providing pro bono legal services to diverse prospective patentees. Through the Patent Diversity Project, Proskauer pro bono lawyers have been connected to diverse inventors desiring to patent innovations in construction tools, medical science, maternal/infant health care, educational toys, and more. Our lawyers help these inventors understand the mechanics and substantive requirements of obtaining a patent, and represent them through the patent application process.

Addressing gender and racial inequalities in the U.S. patent system is not just a matter of fairness for women and people of color. Utilizing the full potential of all inventors regardless of their gender or race can generate economic growth both for underrepresented inventors and for the nation. Most importantly, inclusion of women and minorities in the patent system expands the range of experiences and perspectives on each team of inventers and, in turn, helps to solve problems with the most useful and innovative solutions.

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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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