Female inventorship on the rise – but UK lags behind Russia, France & China

By Kitty Knowles 3 January 2017
Ada Lovelace Day. Pic: CC

Women lean towards stereotypically gendered areas including designing bras and makeup, report finds.

Ada Lovelace wrote the first algorithm to be carried out by a computing machine. Rosalind Franklin is known for her key role in the discovery of DNA. Sarah Guppy invented the machine used by Brunel to build the Clifton Suspension Bridge.

These are just a few inspiring British women who’ve made their mark as inventors.

But while more and more women around the world are creating exciting new innovations, women in the UK are flagging behind, new research has found.

The global picture

A report from the from the UK Intellectual Property Office (IPO) shows that the gender gap in worldwide patenting is now decreasing.

Since 2000 there has been a 60% increase in the female inventors across the globe.

But while it’s promising to see this, we still have a long way to go: in 2000 only 6.8% of all inventors worldwide were female, reaching just 11.5% by 2015.

A British boost?

What’s more, while female inventorship is on the rise in the UK, we still flag behind the leading pack.

The number of female-filed patents has risen by 16% in the last 10 years, and the UK was recently ranked best place to patent in the world in Taylor Wessing’s Global Intellectual Property Index.

However it’s countries like Russia (15.7%), France (11.7%), China (10.01%), Taiwan (9.81%) and (9.05%) that have the highest proportion of female inventors.

In Britain the proportion of female inventors is 7.3% patents filed, while countries such as Germany (5.5%) and Japan (3.7%) have some of the lowest.

Getting more women inventing

The IPO report also revealed the subject areas where most women had filed patents; with the highest proportion being in chemistry fields such as biotechnology and pharmaceuticals, and the lowest seen in mechanical engineering.

To add to this gendered narrative, higher numbers of female patents were seen in “stereotypical” sectors such as designing bras and makeup.

Women worked on 56% of all bras and corsets, 51% of shorts, underwear and baby linen and 37% of makeup and toiletries invented between 2000 and 2015.

There are “clear, and somewhat gender stereotypical, differences,” stated the IPO report.

Baroness Neville Rolfe, Minister of State for Energy and Intellectual Property said that the rising rates were promising, but revealed even more needed to be done to “help to build an economy that works for all”.

We need to support the next wave of Lovelace, Franklin and Guppys.