International Women’s Day: Where Are All the Female Inventors?

By Keisha Michael, Trainee Patent Attorney

WIPO statistics show that in 2020, only 16.5% of international patent applicants were women. Although this value has increased by 3.8%, from 12.7%, over the past decade, it is predicted that gender parity amongst PCT-listed inventors won’t be reached until 2058[1]. In Great Britain, these statistics are even worse. Data from 2015 revealed that, for that year, only 7% of British inventors on GB patent applications were female [2].

The subject area with the highest proportion of female inventors is biotechnology, where data collected by WIPO between 2000 and 2015 discloses that 25.5% of inventors on GB patent applications were female, with the worst areas being those related to mechanical engineering, where as few as 2.9% of inventors were female.

Whilst those statistics paint a disappointing picture, they do not reflect the quality or variety of the inventions that have been patented by women.

For example, Ann Tsukamoto is a stem cell researcher and inventor on at least seven granted patents relating to stem cell biology. US patent US5643741 describes isolation of human blood stem cells. These cells are able to regenerate certain components of blood-forming systems that may have been damaged in patients undergoing chemotherapy. This has contributed greatly to the advancement of cancer treatment.

Figure showing the invention referenced above

Pranoti Nagarkar-Israni, a mechanical engineer, is named as an inventor on at least 8 patent applications, all relating to food preparation and typically using artificial intelligence to learn and improve their function use by use. For example, patent US9848608 discloses a method for adaptive kneading technology where a blade can determine a strain value which is used to measure the hardness of a dough ball. Flour or water can then be added automatically to correct the consistency.

Figure showing the invention referenced above

In the 19th Century, cycling as a mode of transport allowed women in the UK to gain a level of independence that they had not yet experienced. However, the clothes women were expected to wear at the time weren’t practical for such an activity. In 1895, Alice Bygrave, a dressmaker from Brixton, patented (US555428A) one of four skirts with a dual pulley system that allowed the length of the skirt to be adjusted. The skirt provided a balance between being practical cycling wear and “respectable” off the bike.

Figure showing the invention referenced above

Marie Van Brittan Brown was an African American inventor and nurse who patented a home security system utilizing television surveillance (US3482037). The invention describes a way to see who is at the door. It consists of peepholes, cameras, television monitors and microphones. It also contained an emergency button to directly contact the police. This invention was the first instance of a closed-circuit television security system.

Figure showing the invention referenced above

Finally, in 1908, Melitta Bentz, a 35-year-old, German entrepreneur found that coffee was generally over-brewed, leaving it bitter, and often had grounds left over in the drink. She invented a coffee filtering device using blotting paper from her son’s exercise book (US2234397). She also founded the German company, Melitta, which still sells coffee, paper coffee filters and coffee makers today.