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These are some of the global hotspots where women inventors are defying the gender gap

While men continue to dominate patent applications, the share of women inventors has grown steadily since the late 1970s.

While men continue to dominate patent applications, the share of women inventors has grown steadily since the late 1970s. Image: Unsplash/Tim Mossholder

Andrea Willige
Senior Writer, Forum Agenda
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  • In countries like South Korea and China, the share of women inventors now stands at over a quarter, but Europe is lagging, according to the European Patent Office.
  • There is also wide variation across the continent, with Southern and Eastern Europe outperforming some of Europe’s economic heavyweights.
  • Research suggests that women are often not recognized for their contributions to science and innovation.

While men continue to dominate patent applications, the share of women inventors has grown steadily since the late 1970s. South Korea and China are leading the charge, with more than a quarter of patents filed over the past decade involving women. However, across Europe, only 13.2% of patent applications include women. This is according to the latest report on women’s participation in patent submissions, issued by the European Patent Office (EPO).

While Europe has seen a significant rise in its women inventor rate (WIR) since the late 1970s, the statistics mean that fewer than one in seven European inventors today are women. This puts Europe behind not only the two top performers from Asia, but also the US (15%). It is, however, ahead of Japan (9.5%).

In Research.com’s 2022 ranking of the world’s best women scientists, only two of the top 10 were based in Europe. A further four made the top 20, which was dominated by US-based researchers.

Graph measuring the women inventor rate in EPO countries.
Europe’s women inventor rate (WIR) has risen substantially since the late 1970s but is still only 13% – around half that of Korea and China. Image: EPO

European hotspots for female inventors

As António Campinos, President of the EPO, highlighted in their report, increasing women’s participation in science and innovation will be a key factor in Europe’s future sustainability and competitiveness.

However, Europe is far from homogenous when it comes to opportunities for female inventors.

Statistic showing the women inventor rate by EPO country.
The women inventor rate (WIR) varies widely among European countries, with Latvia at the top and Austria at the bottom. Image: EPO

There was a gap of 22.6 percentage points between top performing Latvia with 30.6% of patent applications involving women and lowest-performing Austria with 8%.

Portugal, Croatia, Spain and Lithuania made up the remainder of the top five, with between a fifth and more than a quarter of women inventors. Liechtenstein and Germany joined Austria at the bottom of the list.

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Hotspots for female inventors were largely in Southern and Eastern Europe, which outdid some of the bigger economies in the heart of Europe.

Figure showing the gender gaps in online training.
Women and men differ in their choices for online training. Image: World Economic Forum

Creativity is vital to the economy

These insights come at a time when digitalization and automation continue to transform the global economy. Along with an uncertain economic outlook, this means that creativity is becoming more vital than ever, as the World Economic Forum’s new Future of Jobs 2023 Report stresses. It finds that creative thinking is one of the top two skills employers are looking for right now, and predicts that it will become even more vital over the next few years.

However, the Global Gender Gap Report 2022 finds that men are more likely to invest in innovation and digital skills while women are more likely to develop their people and self-management skills.

Figures showing the women's share of potential authorships.
A study suggests that women scientists are less likely to be named in scientific works compared to their male colleagues. Image: Nature

Giving women inventors credit

But these preferences may only tell part of the story. Last year, a scientific study revealed that the well-documented gap in the volume of scientific research by the two genders may be down – at least in part – to women not being given credit for their work. The researchers found that, compared to their male colleagues, women were significantly less likely to be named in articles or patents and “systematically less likely to be recognized”. This happens, they suggest, because women’s work “is often not known, is not appreciated or is ignored”.

Figure showing the share of women and men reporting their contributions.
Women scientists report that their contributions are being ignored. Image: Nature

To harness the potential of women inventors, these and many other inhibitors will need to be overcome, both in Europe and worldwide.

In its Future of Jobs 2023 Report, the World Economic Forum highlights that women are the most common priority group in diversity, equality and inclusion initiatives. This may help with access for women to STEM education and careers, which the EPO highlights as a prevailing issue. It also points to the need for greater collaboration and teamwork in innovation and for learning from those with a less acute gender gap.

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Supporting international mobility may also create more opportunities for women to become innovators, with the EPO’s data suggesting that women are more likely to invent abroad than in their home countries.

At its Growth Summit (2-3 May 2023), the World Economic Forum picked up on this topic as part of its focus on developing human capital and accelerating economic equity, including gender equality, to speed economic recovery.

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Institutional update

World Economic Forum

May 21, 2024

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