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International Women’s Day 2022

March 8, 2022

Women’s participation in innovation and international patents – a look at 2021

In 2021, women inventor’s share in international patent applications showed an increase of one percentage point, from 15.5% in 2020 to 16.5% in 2021[1]. Only 1/3 of patent applications listed at least one woman inventor in 2021: while the percentage remains low, it is a two percentage points increase over the previous year.

In the last decade, there has been a 6 percentage point increase in the share of women inventors in international patent applications, and a 10 percentage point increase in patent applications listing at least one women inventor.

While this increase shows advancement towards the goal of equal representation in innovation and IP use, growth is slow and inequalities persist. At the current rate, predictions show that parity may only be achieved in 2053, i.e. 31 years from now. This means women inventors and innovators today may never experience equality and representation in their careers.

Regional advances

Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) continues to register the highest share of women inventors in international patent applications. In 2021, women were listed in 22.9% of international patent applications. This is a 3.8% increase in the last decade.

Asia registered the biggest improvement in the same period, with a 6.7% increase between 2011 (11%) and 2021 (17.7%).

In most regions, the share of women inventors in international patent applications are slowly increasing, although unfortunately not for all. In Africa, women inventors published 1 percentage point less international patent applications in 2021 (10.6%) than in 2011 (11.6%).

In 2021, the top ten origins of PCT women inventors were China, France, U.S, Netherlands, Republic of Korea, Italy, U.K, Germany, India and Japan.

Women in technology fields

Women inventors in 2021 participated in all technology fields, however, they continued to be mostly concentrated in life sciences. For example, the female inventors’ share for biotechnology was 29.6%, 29.1% for food chemistry, 28.7% for pharmaceuticals, 25.5% for analysis of biological materials and 25.3% for organic fine chemistry.

Digital communication registered the highest growth rate in women’s participation (19.6%), followed by computer technology (18.2%), pharmaceuticals (16.4%), biotechnology (15.9%) and medical technology (13.6%). Pharmaceuticals contributed the most to the overall growth in women inventors, with a 2.5 percentage point increase.

Women’s contribution to research and discovery

In 2021, applications by Public Research Organizations and Universities had the highest shares of women inventors, 24.3% and 23.9% respectively. In terms of increase over the past decade, Universities had the highest growth with 5.3 percentage points, followed by private companies (5 percentage points).

The way forward

The underrepresentation of women in international patenting and innovation is a loss of innovative potential, and it concerns us all. WIPO is bridging this gap by working with women inventors and entrepreneurs worldwide to build knowledge on IP and its benefits, as well as IP policy makers and stakeholders to make IP ecosystems more inclusive, for the good of everyone.

Let’s work together to close the gender gap in IP!


[1] Due to changes in the methodology, data may have changed compared to past reporting. For further details on methodology, refer to this page.