What The Landscape For U.S. Women Inventors Looks Like


This February, the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) released a report called “Progress and Potential: A Profile Of Women Inventors On U.S. Patents.”

The report opens by sharing the story of Hannah Wilkinson Slater. She is considered to be the first woman that received a U.S. patent for developing a new method of producing cotton-sewing thread in 1793. Hannah’s trailblazing entry into patents sets the tone for the report. “Progress and Potential” takes a closer look at U.S. women inventors named on U.S. patents from 1976 through 2016 and trends and characteristics of their patents. What do women inventors in the United States look like? Let’s find out through the report’s key findings.


Women (still) comprise the minority of patent inventors.

This rings true of Hannah Wilkinson Slater’s era and today’s modern world. Men obtained 32,362 patents between 1790 and 1859. Meanwhile, only 72 U.S. patents were credited to women inventors during that same time period.

Female inventor growth has been on a slow and steady up and up. Patents with at least one woman inventor grew from 7% in the 1980s to nearly 21% in 2016. Patents with at least one woman inventor also expanded from 5% to 14% from 1998 to 2016.

Compared to percentages for men, these numbers are still quite small. However, it’s interesting to note that female-only teams do not drive patent growth. Mixed-gender teams with at least one female inventor are among popular trends in patent inventor teams. They drive patent growth with women more likely to work on larger teams.


Women participate in science occupations at a higher rate than they invent patented technology.

This isn’t a ding at choosing roles in science and engineering instead of becoming a patent inventor. Rather, the study notes that women participate more in science occupations than invent patented technology.

Science and engineering fields have historically produced the most patentable inventions. The less women there are that pursue these fields, the number of patent inventors shrinks.

Studies show that the science and engineering workforce was made of 28% women in 2015. However, just 12% were patent inventors. While there are many factors at play for women to become patent inventors, it’s interesting to note that the participation rate most resembles women patent inventor rate in one field: engineering.


There are more women inventors in tech-intensive states.

Where do women patent inventors reside? Over a four-year period from 2012-2016, a little over 15% of women patent inventors lived in New York. Almost 15% could be found in Massachusetts with 14% in California.

It is not surprising to hear that women inventors reside in three states, particularly California. Progress and Potential notes that states on the coasts host technology clusters. It’s a bit easier to draw a patent inventor to a state that has a robust tech presence and workforce.

Outside of New York, Massachusetts, and California, three other states also account for high women inventor rates. These include Delaware, the District of Columbia, and New Jersey. From 2012-2016, 18% of women inventors with patent grants lived in Delaware. 17% lived in the District of Columbia and New Jersey.

Which state does the women inventor rate matter the most? California. According to the report, this state is home to the most patent inventors.


More patents are developed by entrepreneurs — and more women are pursuing entrepreneurship.

Survey data shows that in 2016, women accounted for 39% of new entrepreneurs. The report also notes that women who pursue entrepreneurship will do so more than they will invent patented technology.

While it may appear as though women are trading in being patent inventors to be entrepreneurs, the survey notes that entrepreneurs do develop many patented inventions. More women consistently become new entrepreneurs, allowing for higher participation in this field.




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