According to the most recent data, women’s representation among inventors globally is still low.
By Roberta Rincon, Ph.D., SWE Senior Manager of Research
Figure 1: Representation of women inventors on PCT applications, by country, 2021
The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) provides data on international patent (PCT) applications, and its most recent annual report offers a snapshot on women’s participation as inventors.¹ In 2021, more than 277,000 PCT applications were filed, and fewer than 17% of inventors listed on these applications were women.
Applications were filed from 129 countries, with China (69,540), the United States (59,570), and Japan (50,260) filing the most. Combined with Germany and the Republic of Korea, these five countries represent more than three-quarters of all PCT applications filed in 2021.
Figure 1 shows the nine countries with the highest percentage of PCT applications that included at least one woman as inventor, along with the share of women listed as inventors across all PCT applications originating from that country. In these countries, while approximately one-third of PCT applications appear to include a woman inventor, the actual share of women inventors among applicants from most of these countries is relatively low.
Figure 2: Representation of women inventors on PCT applications, by technical field, 2021
Most PCT applications filed in 2021 are categorized as electrical engineering, with 38% of applications falling within specific technical fields under this category. Figure 2 lists the top 10 technical fields with the most PCT applications.
What is concerning regarding gender diversity is that women are severely underrepresented in most of these technical fields, particularly those categorized as electrical engineering. In the U.S., for example, fewer than 10% of employed electrical engineers are women and 26% of computer scientists are women.²,³ Fields like chemistry and biology, however, have much greater gender diversity in the workplace, and women’s representation among listed inventors in PCT applications in fields like biotechnology and pharmaceuticals are higher (Figure 3). Increasing women’s representation across all STEM fields will help increase women’s representation among inventors, resulting in more gender-diverse teams and greater innovation and productivity.⁴
Figure 3: Share of women among listed inventors in PCT applications by selected fields of technology and countries, 2021
1. WIPO (2022). PCT Yearly Review 2022: The International Patent System. Geneva: World Intellectual Property Organization.
2. U.S. Census Bureau.
3. U.S. Department of Labor, BLS: 11.
4. Yang, Y., Tian, T.Y., Woodruff, T.K., Jones, B.F., and Uzzi, B. (2022). Gender-Diverse Teams Produce More Novel and Higher-Impact Scientific Ideas. PNAS, 119(36).