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Noeleen O'Hara by Noeleen O'Hara

The European Patent Office has just published a new study entitled “Women’s participation in inventive activity: evidence from EPO data”, the first of its kind by the office, with key insights into gender and patenting in Europe.

The study, based on European patent applications filed between 1978 and 2019 (with some extensions until 2021), provides data on women inventors across countries, time periods, technology fields and patent applicant profiles. It indicates a persistent gender gap in patenting in Europe and suggests ways to close it.

Some of the key findings include:

  • The study shows that while women’s contributions to science and technology have been increasing in recent decades (the percentage of women inventors among all inventors named on European patent applications has increased from around 2% in the late 1970s to more than 13% in 2019), parity with men has still not been reached.
  • Women accounted for only 13.2% of European inventors named on European patent applications in 2019, with the share of women inventors in Europe being higher than in Japan (9.5%), but lower than in South Korea (28.3%), China (26.8%) and the US (15%).
  • In Europe, for the period 2010-19, Latvia (30.6%), Portugal (26.8%), Croatia (25.8%), Spain (23.2%) and Lithuania (21.4%) have the highest proportion of women inventors, while Germany (10.0%), Luxembourg (10.0%), Liechtenstein (9.6%) and Austria (8.0%) have the lowest.
  • The differences among European countries can largely be explained by the stronger presence of women inventors in universities and public research institutions, and in the chemistry and life sciences sectors.
  • There is a decreasing share of women going from total employment to PhD enrolment, to PhD graduates in STEM (Science, technology, engineering and mathematics), to R&D personnel and researchers, to patenting. This confirms a “leaking pipeline” issue, whereby women in Europe face increasing obstacles when progressing in STEM careers.
  • Women are more likely to be found in inventor teams than among individual inventors. This reflects the increasing division of intellectual labour that goes along with the accumulation of knowledge, especially in technology fields in which women inventors tend to specialise and bodes well for the future of women in patenting.

The EPO study finds that chemistry stands out as the technology sector with the highest share of women inventors (22.4% in 2010-19), while mechanical engineering (5.2%) has the lowest share. Within the chemistry sector, patent applications in the areas of biotechnology and pharmaceuticals have rates of over 30% women inventors.

The report also highlights that patent applications from universities and public research organisations have a significantly larger share of women inventors (19.4% in 2010-19) than those from private business (10.0%). In addition, the report reveals that women are more likely to be found in inventor teams than among individual inventors, but they tend to have less senior positions in those teams than men.

The EPO study aims to provide policymakers and the general public with insights and evidence on gender and patenting in Europe. It provides data on women inventors across different countries, time periods, technology fields and patent applicant profiles.

According to the study, the rate of women inventors in Europe (13.2% in 2019) is higher than that of Japan (9.5%), but below that of South Korea (28.3%), China (26.8%) and the US (15.0%).

You can access the full report and key findings at www.epo.org/women-inventors.

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