April 24, 2019 NYIPLA Roundtable & Reception
Finding our Lost Marie Curies: Gender Diversity in Innovation

In February of this year, the USPTO Office of the Chief Economist issued a report entitled “Progress and Potential: A Profile of Women Inventors on U.S. Patents.”  The report provides context and history relating to women inventors and details a study showing that “[e]ven today, women comprise a small minority of patent inventors” suggesting “their innovative potential is underutilized.” As International Women’s Day on March 8 approached, Laura Sheridan, Senior Patent Counsel at Google and NYIPLA Corporate Committee Co-chair, proposed to the officers that the NYIPLA address the issues raised in the USPTO report in some fashion. The NYIPLA reached out to the USPTO and, with the assistance of Elizabeth Dougherty, USPTO Atlantic Outreach Liaison, quickly pulled together a roundtable meeting, entitled "Finding Our Lost Marie Curies: Gender Diversity in Innovation," during which Director Andrei Iancu, moderator Laura Sheridan, and invited guests came together to discuss this important topic. Colleen Chien, Columbia Law School, Visiting Professor of Law, was also instrumental in coordinating the event and providing the venue, such that the roundtable meeting took place on April 24 at Columbia University School of Law followed by a Reception sponsored by the law school’s Center for Gender and Sexuality Law, and a fireside chat with Director Iancu and Columbia students. Approximately 30 NYIPLA members took part in the discussions which resulted in a list of possible barriers to gender diversity in innovation as well as a list of possible solutions to help address those barriers. Background reading as well as the lists generated by the discussion are available on the NYIPLA website on the events page. The NYIPLA is exploring further ways to work with the USPTO and others on this topic and welcomes all ideas and suggestions, which can be forwarded to the administrative team (admin@nyipla.org) for further distribution among NYIPLA leadership. 

Below is a summary of barriers and potential solutions to gender diversity in innovation. 

Barriers to Gender Diversity in Innovation

  • Unconscious biases
  • Inventorship determinations
  • The role women take on in R&D contexts
  • Group dynamics
  • Perfectionism
  • Different career development opportunities
  • Failure to give credit for work
  • Different incentives/motivations to innovate
  • Lack of inclusion
  • Issues in how teams get created
  • Decision-maker biases
  • Having buy-in at the highest levels of a company

Potential Solutions to Improving Gender Diversity in Innovation

  • Spotlighting prominent female inventors to bring greater visibility 
  • Learning from regions with better diversity in innovation, such as Asia
  • Conducting unconscious bias training
  • Considering unconscious bias pilots - PTO (e.g., removing names from ADS)? Companies (e.g., filing w/first initial only)?
  • Ensuring diversity of decision-makers related to ideation and invention disclosures
  • Within companies, highlighting prominent innovators to raise awareness
  • Exploring solutions derived from companies with better results (determined based on more granular understanding of the data)
  • Setting diversity targets for counsel
  • Accelerated patent examination based on inventor diversity
  • Employing grassroots measures with embedded, proactive patent counseling, encouraging women to file, and bringing awareness of the issue to management
  • Equal (and encouraged) parental leave for women and men
  • PTO providing training/CLE on inventorship determination; counter any gamesmanship
  • Promote incentives to innovate in ways that resonate with women