Large Gender Gap in Patents Awarded to Scientists, Study Finds

A study sponsored by the Kansas City-based Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation has found that male academic scientists in the life sciences secure patents at more than twice the rate of their female colleagues.

According to Gender Differences in Patenting in the Academic Life Sciences, female academic scientists patent at about 40 percent the rate of men. The study, which examined a random sample of 4,227 life scientists over a thirty-year period, found that 5.7 percent of the women in the sample held patents, compared to 13 percent of the men, and that male patent holders had secured 1,286 patents, compared to only 92 by women scientists. Because scientists receive compensation when their patents are licensed from their university employers, and because patenting often leads to faculty involvement in other compensated corporate work, those findings have serious income implications for women scientists.

An analysis of related data found no evidence that women do less significant scientific research. Instead, the most significant contributors to the gender gap were the lack of female scientists' exposure to the commercial sector and a fairly widespread concern among women scientists that the pursuit of commercial opportunities might hinder their university careers. Looking to the future, the report found that younger women scientists view patents as both an achievement and a legitimate way to disseminate research, which could narrow the gender gap over time.

"The difference [in male and female academic scientists' ability to secure patents] is much larger than other measures of scientists' activities and rewards, such as publication rates of research papers, salary, or promotion rates," said Toby E. Stuart, one of the study's researchers at the Harvard Business School, "but [it] is likely to narrow if current trends continue."

Visit the Kauffman Web site to read or download the report (23 pages, PDF).