Perspectives from ISB

The early pioneers of technology and innovation were woman who, for the most part of  history, were unheralded. Marie Curie, Ada Lovelace, Grace Hopper, Anita Borg, among many others, have worked on groundbreaking inventions and computations in the field of nuclear physics, human-computer interaction, astronomical crunching, programming language compilations, etc. Only now these contributions are being recognised and rightly attributed. It is fair to say that woman participation, by and large, is being encouraged and supported: with organisations taking conscious efforts for inclusion, with measures undertaken to address issues of pay parity, woman’s return to work, education for girls, etc. But this improvement is rather trivial. The tech community largely reeks of gender- (and minority) based inequalities in terms of opportunities and pay. The proportion of female executives considerably dwindles along the hierarchical ladder, and even more so in the STEM community. Gender inequality in technology and innovation is a stigma that calls for immediate action.

Ongoing research at the Srini Raju Centre for IT and Networked Economy examines the biases against woman in technological innovation. The research was primarily motivated by the need to discern the under-representation of minorities, specifically, woman in patenting. The results highlight the presence of significant gender-based bias[1] in obtaining patents.[2] We create a measure of novelty in patent application and discuss the consequences of producing different technology for female over male inventors. Uniqueness or novelty of a patent application is calculated as its inverse similarity to those filed in the previous year in the same technological class. We observe that higher dissimilarity is rewarded with a higher rate of acceptance, higher maintainability, more citations, etc. Contrariwise, dissimilar patents with a high proportion of female inventors do not see equivalent acceptance.

Our findings show that woman inventors face higher penalties – lower rates of patent acceptances, more days to grants, higher efforts for maintenance – for novelty. These costs hold true for patent applications in varied scenarios, such as:

  • Technological classes like “Computers and Communications”
  • Single woman inventors
  • All female inventors
  • Women in large organisations
  • Woman-dominant patent applications (proportion of female inventors is above 50 percent)

Below visualisations were developed from the data developed at SRITNE and I attempt to visualise the findings. Figure 1 illustrates the average number of male and female inventors for patent applications over years from 2002 to 2014. A significant increase in the number of inventors is observed, while the number of female inventors is constant. It is important to highlight the gap in patenting by women and men.

Figure 1: Average number of inventors by gender over time

Figure 2 represents the average proportion of female inventors by year for different patent technological categories: Chemical, Food, Electrical & Electronic, Textiles, Mechanical, Others, Computers & Communications and Drugs & Medical, as defined by NBER.

Figure 2: Number of applications filed vs Number of Patent Issued by all

Figure 3 shown below illustrates the probability patent acceptances for different team sizes as the proportion of female inventors for the given team increases. We see a reduction in the rate of patent issued as the proportion of female on an application increases.

Figure 3: Probability of patent being issued for different team sizes, with number of inventors = 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6

Figure 4 below shows the average total citations received by applications for different team sizes as the proportion of female inventors for the given team increases. We see a reduction in the total citations as the proportion of female on an application increases.

Figure 4 demonstrates the total citations received by patents for different team sizes with increasing female proportion.

Clearly there are biases against woman in technological innovation. These results have been supported by multiple gender-based studies. A lot of research has reiterated that women at an organisation’s innovation frontier can lead to improved business performance. Thus, their under-representation and lack of opportunities in the workforce subsumes a prejudice rooted in the society. Women, single handedly, have come a long way from disenfranchisement to multiple waves of feminism. It is only right that the entire community wholly devotes itself to creating a gender-equal workforce.

1 Gender identification has been done using the API provide by

2 Only patents filed and granted at the United States Patent Office (USPTO) have been used for the study


About the Author:

Bhoomi Thakkar is a Research Associate at SRITNE.

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