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House Proposal Looks to Improve Diversity in U.S. Patent System

  • IDEA Act looks to improve diversity in U.S. patent applications
  • Legislation would require the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to collect demographic data but keep it separate from patent applications
  • Goal is to broaden access to women, minorities, and poor inventors, all of whom are underrepresented in developing inventions

Summary by Dirk Langeveld

A bipartisan group is proposing a bill aimed at improving diversity in patent applications, with the goal of increasing the number of women- and minority-owned small businesses and boosting the nation’s GDP.

The Inventor Diversity for Economic Advancement Act is being put forward by House Small Business Committee Chairwoman Nydia M. Velázquez (D-NY), Senator Mazie K. Hirono (D-HI), Thom Tillis (R-NC), and Rep. Steve Stivers (R-OH). The legislation looks to address barriers faced by women and minorities in developing inventions and acquiring patents.

The IDEA Act would require the United States Patent and Trademark Office to improve its database of voluntarily submitted demographic data by collecting information on gender, race, and military or veteran status from patent applicants. The USPTO would make this information publicly available and issue an annual report on their findings. The bill would also confront implicit biases by requiring that demographic data be kept separate from patent applications.

A recent USPTO report found that only 22 percent of patents list women as an inventor, with women accounting for only about 13 percent of all inventors. In addition, the share of Black and Hispanic college graduates holding a patent is roughly half that of their White counterparts. Poorer people are also underrepresented, with those born into a family below the national median income 90 percent less likely to receive a patent than those born into wealthier families.

Research from Michigan State University suggests that the U.S. GDP per capita could be boosted 3.3 percent if more women and Black entrepreneurs are included in the “initial stage of the process of innovation.” A separate study by the National Bureau of Economic Research concluded that closing the patent gap for women with science and engineering degrees would improve the GDP per capita by 2.7 percent.

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