Why are women rarely patentees?

American women inventors female ingenuity women inventors incredible women inventors

Nicola Serle has published a piece on intellectual property and gender.  See http://ipkitten.blogspot.co.il/2013/01/intellectual-property-and-gender.html

The gender of an inventor is not generally recorded but the name is, and since most names are very good indicators of gender, it is undeniable that only a very small percentage of inventors are female.

Discussions on this topic  often mention Hedy Lamarr, the actress who appeared in Ecstacy and then played Delilah in Cecile B. De Mille’s 1949 classic. She was the inventor of  US Patent 2,292,387 titled Secret Communication System which relates to a technique for frequency band skipping that was intended for controlling torpedoes and underlies CDMA and other modern communication techniques. Lamarr certainly proves that beauty and brains are not mutually exclusive, but she is still an exception that proves the rule.

WIPO used to have a page on Women Inventors on their website, and because of a lack of material, wrote about Marie Curie. Now Ms Curie was a great researcher and thoroughly deserved her two Nobel prizes, for Physics and Chemistry. Nevertheless, she made discoveries in radioactivity, she wasn’t an inventor.

The cost of patenting may discriminate against those with lower income and this includes women, but most patents are filed by universities and corporations and women inventors are still rare. I suspect that if a married female inventor was bankrolled by her husband, she would still appear as the inventor or joint inventor.


Most universities having tech transfer capabilities file applications and then look for partners to further commercialization. Women are key players in the Israel tech transfer offices of the universities, but are rarely inventors. I know it is not politically correct, but maybe women and men think differently? Perhaps women are less inventive?

I have an aunt who was brought up in an egalitarian Kibbutz where boys and girls were treated exactly the same. she maintains that if it were left to women, we would still be living in caves. Women would decorate the caves and sweep the floor, since they are genetically programmed to make do and to build homes. Men think differently.

At an event in Bar Ilan university, a lady lecturer, Dr Shlomit Yanitsky-Ravid argued that patent law, by limiting patents to technology, discriminated against women as women are less technologically minded. She suggested allowing patents for inventions in the social sciences.

I am not a fan of affirmative action. See my comments https://blog.ipfactor.co.il/2013/01/02/israel-patent-office-publishes-tender-for-examiners-from-ethnic-minorities/

Regardless of the underlying reasons, I have drafted and prosecuted hundreds of patent applications and female inventors are certainly rarer than their male counterparts.

Where they are part of a team in industry or academia, it appears that they are generally NOT the main driving force behind the patent. One caveat to this – I generally write applications in the physical sciences and engineering. It may be that in life sciences, women are more active in inventing. There appears to be a higher proportion of women researching and teaching in life sciences than in the physical sciences.

Slightly amusingly, one of the very few patents that I have drafted where the inventor was female was US 6,755,051 for “Novel knitted garments and methods of fabrication thereof.” The patent covers an invention of Rachel Israel, then an engineer at Delta Galil Industries, and relates to a novel technology for fabricating knickers.  Go figure…

Categories: Intellectual Property, Israel Patent, Patents

4 replies

  1. You are assuming that the name listed as “inventor” in a patent is the inventor. Naive. The “inventor” is often head of R & D, or project manager, while the actual invention is the result of brainstorming, water-cooler discussions, design reviews, and team effort. (There is no “I” in team but there are 4 in “platitude quoting idiot”). I don’t need to elaborate on the reasons women are rarely found in top engineering positions – thats another discussion. One notable exception is Helen Greiner, co-founder of iRobot ( whose name does not appear on the company’s numerous and elaborately referenced patents)

    • I don’t assume anything. I am aware that sometimes names appear as coinventors that shouldn’t be considered as such.

      Nevertheless, with the oaths and declarations in the US, it is still a fairly good indication that women do invent less.

  2. Mary Bellis has published a lot of information about women patentees in her blog. I direct you to:
    Of course, this is based on US patents.
    Also see the PTO newsletter highlighting women inventors.
    I personally have represented many women patentees and in our firm’s docket women and men tend to run in equal numbers. Our firm generally represents individuals and small businesses. Prosecuting patents is expensive and basically women still do not have access to the same resources as men. Most women, even those who have their own income, have to check with their spouse before each phase. Only a few men do.

    • Interesting that your practice has roughly equal numbers of female inventors. I don’t think that my mostly male clientele is rare though.

      It may be that female inventors look for female practitioners to represent them. There are certainly a lot of female patent attorneys in Israel, with a noticeable bias to life sciences and chemistry.

      As to who controls family budgets, I don’t know enough about other families to comment. I certainly have had several small time inventors who come along with their wives, and several others who decide to consult with their wives before investing. Patents ARE expensive, and before taking a second mortgage, I think inventors of both sexes should consult with their significant other.

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