The 10th Annual Australian Intellectual Property Report, which looks at the latest IP trends, shows that despite an upward trend in participation the gender gap in patenting persists.
Female inventors comprised around 12% of unique Australian inventors listed on patent applications in Australia in 2016, up from 4% in 1980. Over that period, the female inventor share of Australian filings in civil engineering remained low, at just over 10%, but in biotechnology and organic fine chemistry rose from less than 20% to more than 50%.
Most patent applications filed globally by Australian residents are filed via the PCT route. Around a quarter of PCT applications from Australia list at least one female inventor, a share that has steadily increased over the last five years and rose 2 percentage points in 2021.
Ms Hudson-Gofers said the figures show that where female science industry participation increases, so too does female-led innovation.
“The statistics in the IP Australia report are just another proof point. Female inventor share in Australian filings in engineering remained low – not surprising when only around 16% of current engineering students are female and in the last census only 15% of engineers currently working were women.”
She said the rise in biotech and organic fine chemistry patents by women “makes sense when we consider 56% of scientists in biological science are female and nearly 40% in chemical sciences” and shows that where female science industry participation increases, so too does female-led innovation.
“We only have to look at the explosion of innovation in the area of Femtech. Women have been suffering from menstruation and menopause for centuries yet, it has only been in the last five years we have seen an entire category of innovation now dedicated to supporting this fundamental area of biology. The innovation in this category is being led by female scientists and founders: women encouraged to solve problems for women.”
Ms Hudson-Gofers says the fact there is still a significant gender imbalance “should surprise no-one”.
She said if we want more female inventors and women participating in patenting and innovation, we need to address the systemic shortage of women choosing STEM subjects at school.
“We continue to see a gender imbalance with the adoption of STEM subjects at schools and universities, and while this imbalance continues we will continue to see the same play out in both the workforce and subsequently in women-led innovation,” said Ms Hudson-Gofers.
“Our tweens and teenagers need to be exposed more to role models and career opportunities when they are making critical decisions about subject selection at high school which impact further study decisions and ultimately their pathway into IP and other innovation related professions.”
Women participation in patents from Australia filed via the PCT
The report authors say the increase in female participation in PCT applications is primarily due to growth in applications attributed to mixed teams, involving both men and women inventors.
“The results could reflect change in the team composition of inventors or, alternatively, shifts in organisational practice with women inventors more likely to be recognised on patent applications for their contributions.”
IP Australia’s Office of the Chief Economist is developing a program of research to understand the barriers to participation in IP, including gender and education. The findings will inform IP Australia’s ongoing efforts to broaden access to the IP system.
“It is vital to increase the supply of innovations from people of diverse backgrounds and ensure Australia is not losing potential innovators. An enduring concern is the under-representation of women and girls in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields,” it said.
Access the full 2022 IP Report as a downloadable PDF.