Women Increasing Role as Science, Tech Innovators

Chad Brooks

Female entrepreneurs are flexing their intellectual muscles like never before, new research shows.

A study by the National Women’s Business Council (NWBC) found the number of women awarded federal patents and trademarks, often considered an indicator of entrepreneurial activity, has soared in recent years.

In 2010, 18 percent of all patents went to women, compared with 14 percent a decade earlier and just 9 percent 20 years before.

The share of trademarks granted to women also increased dramatically, nearly doubling within a 30-year span. Women were granted fewer than 17 percent of all trademarks to individuals or sole proprietorships in 1980; that number rose to 33 percent in 2010.

"An increase in patent and trademark ownership may indicate growth in women-owned companies and help shed light on this underexamined topic," said NWBC Chair Donna James. "Very little research has specifically studied women business owners and intellectual property."
The study found a surging number of women obtaining patents in recent years. The largest was in 2010, when 22,984 patents were granted to women — a 35 percent jump from the year before.

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Most of the women-owned patents came in the areas of chemistry, bio-affecting drugs, semiconductor device manufacturing and furnishings, but the largest increases came in data processing, surgery and electrical computers and digital processing systems.

Women earned more than 6,500 trademarks in 2010, a slight dip from the all-time high of 7,274 in 2008. The advertising, business, clothing, education and entertainment and miscellaneous services industries – which includes scientific and technological services and design – saw the most female trademark activity.

The study is the first of its kind to explore the rates of women applying for and receiving patents and trademarks, mainly because federal applications do not ask for gender information.

For the study, researchers determined gender by using the name of the applicant. To accomplish that, they relied on multiple sources, including the U.S. Census Bureau and the U.S. Social Security Administration, which compiles a list of the 10,000 most common American names for men and women, and commercially available data of the most common names in Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Indian, Spanish, German and French. 

The study was released this week to coincide with the start of March's Women’s History Month.

This story was provided by BusinessNewsDaily, a sister site to LiveScience. Chad Brooks is a Chicago-based freelance writer who has worked in public relations and spent 10 years working as a newspaper reporter and now works as a freelance business and technology reporter. You can reach him at chadgbrooks@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter @cbrooks76.