This article is part of an ongoing series from Clarivate Analytics celebrating women in STEM with profiles of female inventors, scientists, researchers, and corporate leaders featured in Derwent, Web of Science, BioWorld, and Publons. See more articles in this series, or follow our online campaign using #WomenAtClarivate.
In celebration of World IP Day and this year’s theme “Powering change: Women in innovation and creativity,” today we honor the contributions of female inventors. Leveraging data from Derwent World Patent Index (DWPI), recent analysis from Clarivate Analytics published to IAM explores notable inventions from the past and examines the proportion of patented female inventors, how representation has changed over time and possible reasons behind the figures.
They say that necessity is the mother of invention and certainly some of the things we take for granted today were invented by notable mothers of invention. During a visit to New York in 1902, Mary Anderson noticed the driver of a trolley car struggling to keep the windshield clear of sleet, so she designed the first effective “Window-cleaning device” (patented as US743801) which became the forerunner for today’s car windscreen wipers (e.g. US8555457 which cites Anderson’s patent).
They say that necessity is the mother of invention and certainly some of the things we take for granted today were invented by notable mothers of invention.
We have Margaret Knight to thank for today’s familiar flat-bottomed paper bag with her “Improvement in paper bag machines” patented in 1871 (US116842). Knight has been called “the most famous 19th century woman inventor” and went on to secure 86 further patents in areas as diverse as shoe-making, unhardened sheet winding machinery and the rotary engine.
Another prolific female inventor from the past was Beulah Louise Henry (also known as ‘Lady Edison’) who held over 49 patents some of which, whilst not perhaps ‘essential’, include useful and entertaining items like the vacuum ice-cream freezer (US1037762A) and the inflatable doll (US2503948A).
Perhaps the most significant example of female innovation from this era originates, somewhat surprisingly, from Hollywood. The stellar (and occasionally scandalous) screen career and colorful personal life of movie star Hedy Lamarr are well documented. What is less well known is that in 1942, under her real name of Hedy Kiesler Markey, she co-patented an invention to prevent signal jamming of radio-controlled torpedoes (US2292387A). Learn about how Hedy Lamarr’s ‘frequency hopping’ technology turned out to be the early ancestor of ‘spread spectrum’ radio, without which GPS, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi could not have been developed.
More recently, female inventors have developed Kevlar®, a para-aramid synthetic fiber which has a high tensile strength-to-weight ratio and can be used in several applications including skis, bows, mechanical belts, industrial hoses and as protective clothing (Stephanie Kwolek, US3888965A, US3951914A and others).
Another prominent area of female innovation is in the field of genetics, where women have made remarkable discoveries and developed notable inventions. Learn more about contemporary women inventors such as Elizabeth Blackburn, Michelle Hastings, and Linda Buck who are changing the world of genetics.
These examples show ground breaking and Nobel-worthy innovation and creativity. But looking at the proportion of female to male inventors named in US patents, the women’s contributions appear to be a case of quality rather than quantity.
Research conducted by Clarivate Analytics shows that, for a sample week in 2017, just 11.1% of published US patent applications arose from female inventors:
Source: Derwent World Patents Index from Clarivate Analytics
However small that proportion, it is at least growing. For the same sample week ten years previously, the proportion of published US patent applications with a named female inventor was just 6.6%. Although the numbers are small, that’s at least a healthy 68% growth over the ten-year period.
Examining a global view, we find interesting regional differences for both 2017 and ten years earlier in 2007:
Source: Derwent World Patents Index from Clarivate Analytics
All regions reviewed have seen growth in female representation, but growth is most marked for female inventions originating from Asia Pacific and Rest of World (RoW). During this period, it should be noted that the proportion of US patent applications arising from Asia Pacific and RoW (i.e. with Asia Pacific or RoW priority) has remained roughly the same at ~29%.
Evidence indicates that more women are entering the science arena, and, while this is encouraging, the real challenges begin as they attempt to move up the career ladder. For women working in technology, however, the situation is rather less encouraging – there are too few women entering the field in the first place.
Evidence indicates that more women are entering the science arena, and, while this is encouraging, the real challenges begin as they attempt to move up the career ladder.
Read my analysis here of recent findings from Gartner, PWC, and the World Economic Forum on the slow progress made towards gender parity in STEM – including such eye opening statistics as that only 5% of leadership positions in the technology sector are held by women.
Does this problem stem from challenges in recruiting girls, or do issues lie in promotion bias or lack of female role models? According to further research from PWC, 78% of students can’t name a famous woman working in technology. So perhaps issues start early on.
Results such as these show that women in tech roles need to be celebrated and showcased, especially to younger generations.
These disappointing statistics need to change. But the only way we will see real change is with action. Results such as these show that women in tech roles need to be celebrated and showcased, especially to younger generations. The theme for this year’s World IP Day is therefore highly relevant and deserves our full support. Hopefully this global initiative will encourage an increase in women entering tech roles, moving us closer to equilibrium.
Read the author’s full analysis on IAM, or follow the Clarivate Analytics blog series celebrating women in STEM Women at Clarivate 2018 for more data-driven features on women inventors, researchers, and scientists.
This analysis was developed with data from Derwent World Patents Index. Learn more.