Women and the international patent system: encouraging trends

Author:Bruno Lefeuvre - Julio Raffo - Kaori Saito - Gema Lax-Martinez
Position:Economics and Statistics Division - Economics and Statistics Division - Gender and Diversity Specialist, WIPO - University of Lausanne, Switzerland

Women contribute to all fields of creativity and intellectual endeavor, yet their achievements often remain hidden from view. The gender gap is all-pervasive. Even in advanced economies, women come up against the infamous “glass ceiling,” finding it hard to climb to the top; and if they do, they are often paid less than their male counterparts. The gender gap is also evident in education.... (see full summary)


If we track women throughout their career as scholars or inventors, the gap expands further. Proportionally fewer women graduating with PhDs take up research work. When they do, they earn less and have a hard time moving up the hierarchy. Evidence also shows that the share of women publishing scientific papers is lower than those employed as researchers. In turn, the proportion of women using the patent system remains low compared with the proportion of scientific papers they publish each year. Some scholars refer to this pattern as the “leaky pipeline.”

Recognizing the scale of this gender imbalance, the United Nations General Assembly and its 193 member states adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. That Agenda took effect on January 1, 2016. It underscores that gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls will contribute to progress across all the Sustainable Development Goals and targets.

As a specialized agency of the United Nations, the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) is committed to promoting gender equality in the field of intellectual property and has taken steps to raise the profile of gender equality, and indeed, mainstream it, within the day-to-day running of the Organization. These steps include the disaggregation of intellectual property (IP) data by gender as a key performance indicator for policies aimed at promoting innovation and creativity and spurring economic, social, and cultural development.

To achieve this objective, WIPO compiled a worldwide gender-name dictionary which includes 6.2 million names for 182 different countries, with a view to identifying the gender of inventors, designers and other IP users. WIPO maintains and periodically updates this dictionary to increase the global scope of its IP and gender statistics. Research and statistics on patents and gender are reported annually (see the PCT Yearly Review and the World Intellectual Property Indicators).

WIPO’s data on patents and gender reveal a very encouraging trend. Gender participation in the IP system is improving. Virtually all indicators related to gender balance in WIPO’s Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) or patent system as a whole show some degree of progress in recent decades. This progress is observed in most countries, in all technical fields and in both academic institutions and companies, although at different rates.

All regions of the world have observed an increase in the share of PCT applications with...

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