7.6The leaky pipeline at work: women heavily underrepresented as inventors in patents

By Thomas Geernaert, Kristien Vercoutere, Annelies Wastyn and Danielle Raspoet (VARIO - Vlaamse Adviesraad voor Innoveren en Ondernemen)


At the request of the minister of Innovation, VARIO published Advisory Report 30 ‘Strengthening Flanders' technology position with regard to patents for refining and supplementing the existing VARIO key indicator 'number of patent applications'. VARIO also formulated policy recommendations based on the results of this analysis with the aim of further strengthening the Flemish technology position with regard to patents.

Here, we want to give additional attention to a gender component in those indicator(s). The Department of Economics, Science and Innovation (EWI) pointed out the importance of such analysis.

This year, WIPO (World Intellectual Property Organization) dedicated its World Intellectual Property Day 2023 to 'Women and IP' because too few women actively use IP systems.

The EPO is also paying attention to gender differences in intellectual property1. For example, the discrepancies between men and women were examined through the so-called ‘women inventor rate’ (WIR), an indicator that quantifies the proportion of women among all inventors in a given country or region. In 2022, they published a report showing that women are still significantly underrepresented. In a sense, the WIR is seen as the last piece of the ‘leaky pipeline’, a metaphor used to describe the increasingly lower proportion of women in successive career steps (in STEM). In the report, the EPO states, among other things:


‘This suggests that the “leaking pipeline” mechanism is at work. […] At the same time, though, the leaking pipeline alone cannot explain the low WIR values observed in all countries. Even the lowest shares of researchers and R&D personnel are still multiples of the WIR in the countries concerned.’


In other words, the proportion of female inventors is lower than what one might expect based on the proportion of women among researchers and R&D personnel. Just like in the rest of the ‘leaky pipeline’, there are specific thresholds for women.

In this report, VARIO attempts to assess this matter for Flanders (not just for Belgium) on the basis of figures provided by ECOOM KU Leuven (Bart Van Looy, Julie Callaert, Marriette Du Plessis). They developed a methodology to assign a gender to inventors based on their first name. Quantifying the number of unique female and male inventors allows among patents and patent portfolios to indicate what the "women inventor rate" (WIR) is in a given region or country.


1 EPO study “Women’s participation in inventive activity: Evidence from EPO data” (2022) epo.org/women-inventors

Lees verder