Gender Gap in Innovation Closing, But Progress is Slow

March 8, 2021

Only 16.5 percent of inventors named in international patent applications in 2020 were women, preliminary WIPO statistics reveal. Over the past decade, this share has increased by 3.8 percentage points: While numbers are going in the right direction, progress is slow. WIPO estimates that, at the current pace, gender parity amongst PCT-listed inventors will only be reached in 2058.

International patent applications filed via WIPO's Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) are an important benchmark for measuring innovative activity in the global economy. They also indicate the ability of inventors – companies, individuals and organizations – to benefit from the protection of their ideas. The low representation of women in international patent applications is concerning, indicating that women’s innovative potential is severely underutilized. This gender gap in innovation is everyone’s loss.

Video: The number of women filing patent applications is steadily rising.

The findings

In 2020, women inventors filed international patent applications more frequently in Latin America and the Caribbean (19.2% of applicants) than any other region. Asia and North America registered the second and third highest shares (17.4% and 16.5% respectively). 

Consistent with trends over the past decade, women inventors continue to be more prevalent within academia (23.2 percent in 2020) than in the private sector (15.7 percent). However, in 2020, international patent applications coming from academia represented only 5.8 percent of total applications.

Women inventors tend to be concentrated in specific disciplines, with biotechnology, food chemistry and pharmaceuticals being the top three fields for women in 2020, in line with the trend of previous years.

On the other hand, transport; engines, pumps and turbines; and mechanical elements are the fields in which women filed the least patent applications in 2020.

What is WIPO doing?

WIPO is actively working towards gender equality and the full participation of women in the international intellectual property (IP) rights system, both through systematic gender mainstreaming and targeted activities.

WIPO Director General Tang is joined by colleagues in celebrating International Women’s Day 2021 and highlighting the need to overcome a gender gap in innovation.

Global and regional research commissioned by WIPO contributes to cast light on the multifaceted barriers that may exclude women from using IP services. In addition to the lack of IP knowledge, barriers include the lack of access to networks, mentors, sponsor and role models; scarcity of financial resources; negative bias and the burden of care responsibilities.

Related links

Gender Equality and Intellectual Property