logo2.jpg (2744 bytes) STATISTICS
Women Inventors
Cartoon_Spain_Maria_Colino3.jpg (66888 bytes)  

Published by IFIA
the International Federation of
Inventors' Associations
 

www.invention-ifia.ch
 

Last Update:   November 21, 2003

Mara Colina (Spain)

 
Worldwide view
Inventions on 1000inventions
Denmark
Girls (Sweden)

 

Statistics on women inventors: A worldwide view

by Dr Farag Moussa
President of the International Federation of Inventors' Associations (IFIA)

(Study published by the author in his book  Women Inventors Organizations,
Geneva, IFIA Publications, 1994)

Are women inventors really a rare species? Take a look at these dismal figures based on patent data published in the early 1980s:

0.5%   Norway
1 %     Canada, Finland, Sweden 
1.2 %  France
1.7 %  USA 

From the moment I tackled this subject, I felt these studies were superficial and the figures wrong. There are women inventors who are invisible in patent statistics. Here are some reasons:

Automatically, an inventor will be considered a man when a patent bears only the family name; an initial for the first name ; or a first name that could be either masculine or feminine, such as Pat, Robin, Jacky, Chris, Toni, Jo, Alex in English, or Dominique, Claude and Camille in French.
In some countries (i.e., France) the inventor's name, whether male or female, is not always mentioned. How can anybody undertake a serious study using such poor data?
In the case of inventions undertaken by a team, statisticians may consider the team leader's name only. It is first on the list and most of the time belongs to a man. Thus, many women co-inventors remain invisible.

To all these reasons some people add the old complaint : that men deprive women of the fruits of their own minds. They say, "Think of all those women whose inventions were hidden under the name of a father, husband, brother, son, or any other male in the family!".  This was true in the past, and probably still is in some cases, but nowadays you could find just as easily a male inventor hiding behind a woman's name: wife, sister, daughter. The reasons for this vary from the mainly financial - inheritance, taxes - to legal: a man working for a firm or company, and therefore not allowed by his employer to apply for a patent. Of course, the employee inventor can also be a woman, which makes things even more complicated. So please be careful with statistics.

If all statistical failings, errors and omissions in general, and of patent statistics in particular, were taken into consideration, the percentage of women inventors would be definitely higher and more encouraging to women.

While doing research for my first book on women inventors, I undertook a detailed study in my own country, Egypt, in 1985. The patent system was established there in 1951. In Egypt the name of the inventor is always mentioned on the patent, and the gender of Egyptian names is quite clearly masculine or feminine. I based my study on the statistics published on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of the Egyptian patent system, statistics from 1951 to 1981.  To begin with, I went through the inventors' names and reached the conclusion that in this underdeveloped country, the percentage of women inventors was at least as high as 6 %!  From a total of 514 Egyptian inventors, there were no fewer than 29 women.  I then examined the list of inventions patented during the same period.  From a total of 609 inventions, women had invented, or participated in, 37 of them.

Some years later, when collecting material for a book on women inventors to be published in Finnish, I asked the Patent Office of Finland to draw up a list of patents granted to Finnish women inventors over the previous five years, 1984 to 1988, regardless of whether their names appeared as sole inventors or co-inventors. I noted that:

Between 1984 and 1988, 77 women had developed, or participated in the development of 80 inventions. This was quite a blow to those who pretended that only a handful of women inventors existed in Finland!
40 of the above inventions, that is 50% of the inventions patented by women, were developed in firms and companies. As for the remaining 50% they were the result of the work of independent women inventors. The majority had patented one invention only. Quite a number had gone on to form their own company.
During 1988, the last year under study, 24 patented inventions were developed, solely or in part, by Finnish women representing 3.1% of the total 778 patents granted to Finnish residents. That figure is three times the estimated 1% put forward at the time.

In 1990, the U.S. Patent Office published Buttons to Biotech, a detailed report of the number of women inventors based on patent data for the period 1977 to 1988. Although the U.S. Patent Office admitted in its study that, "inventors having given names… which could not be easily characterized as male or female, were assumed to be male…" (sic) and that "… the results presented must be regarded as approximations", the survey offers some encouraging figures nevertheless.

In 1988, the percentage of patents for inventions granted to women resident in the USA had reached 5.16%. It was larger when it came to plant patents: 6.92%, or industrial designs: 9.49%.

At the time, the greatest number of U.S. women inventors were found in the field of chemistry: 9.87% in 1988. This figure had increased three and a half times during the 12-year period under review (2.8% in 1977). The study also noted that women inventors participation in chemical technology is particularly evident in biotechnology and pharmaceutical areas.

No figures are given in the U.S. 1990 official report on computer software simply because software was then nonpatentable. Yet it is known that women are very creative in this field. The most famous among them all is American Grace Hopper, inventor of the first completed compiler (1952), a sensational breakthrough that opened the door for automatic programming and indirectly for PCs today. Until then computer programmers had to write time-consuming instructions for each new software package, and computers were huge. Things changed radically with the invention of the compiler, a computer program that translates a programming language so that it can be understood by computers.

Another important point is that most scientists - be they men or women, and there are more and more women in science - still do not patent their inventions. They prefer to present the results of their investigations and research orally in seminars or symposiums and/or to publish them in scientific journals.

CONCLUSION
As we have seen, patents tell only half the story of women inventors. Unveiling the other half is essential if exact figures concerning the percentage of women inventors in a given country are to be established. One thing is certain : if it were possible to add the number of nonpatented inventions to the number of patented inventions, we would discover that the percentage of women inventors in our modern world is higher than the figures given by the most meticulous patent statistical surveys. This percentage is increasing constantly.

 

 

Women Inventions on the
IFIA Internet Inventions Store (IFIS)
 
<http://www.invention-ifia.ch/store.htm>
(Poster prepared by Farag Moussa, IFIA President, for Genius exhibition, Budapest, April 2002)

Percentage of Inventions

Out of the 300 first inventions on IFIS as of March 19, 2002 :
Women were involved in 62 inventions : 20,7%
Women were sole or principal inventors of 47 inventions :15,7%

Out of the 62 inventions :
30 inventions were created by women as sole inventors
17 inventions were created by women as principal co-inventors
15 inventions were created by women as secondary co-inventors

Technical Fields

The following correspond to the 8 main technical fields (Sections A - H) under the International Patent Classification (IPC):

A. Human Necessities 43
B. Performing Operations, Transporting 2
C. Chemistry, Metallurgy 9
D. Textiles, Paper 1
E. Fixed Constructions 0
F. Mechanical Engineering, Lighting, Heating, Weapons, Blasting 4
G. Physics 3
H. Electricity 0
 

 

Number of inventions per Country

10
6
4
4
4
4
3

Germany
China
Benin
Cuba
Syria
United Kingdom
Romania

2
2
2
2
1
1
1

Hungary
Israel
Malaysia
Morocco
Argentina
Austria
Bosnia

1
1
1
1
1
1

Burkina Faso
Cte d'Ivoire
Croatia
Iceland
India
Iran

1
1
1
1
1
1

Ireland
Libya
Philippines
Senegal
Chad
Uruguay

Statistics on women inventors: Denmark
A report from Denmark

(Article published in IFIA-WIN, No. 3, January-June 1996)

DaFFO, the Danish Association for the Promotion of Inventions, is to be congratulated for having participated in a study on women inventors jointly with the Danish Patent Office, the Danish Technology Institute/Danish Innovation Centre, and the Women's Museum. The report was published in Danish, end of 1995, and IFIA also received a non official English abstract.

IFIA's interest was not so much on the situation during the past 100 years (database collected a few years ago by the Women's Museum when it organized an exhibition entitled: Women Inventors 1896-1990), but rather on more recent statistics and trends obtained by the other three organizations through questionnaires, statistical surveys, and interviews.

Here are some of the most striking points in this report:

Danish women have not been stimulated by special initiatives (organized women inventors associations, visibility in society, etc.) to promote the women inventor issue as has been done in other Nordic countries (Finland and Sweden in particular). The exhibition on women inventors which was set up by the Women's Museum in two towns was an exception and not the rule.
Women accounted at the time (1990-1993 statistics) for 4.9% of patents granted to Danish citizens. This is a significant increase when compared with the average of 1.5% representing the period 1896 to 1990.
More and more women invent as part of their job. However, the female contribution among employed inventors is difficult to measure. The above percentage concerns only independent inventors.
In recent years, chemistry has become the major area in terms of patents granted to women. "Human necessities" was the major field of interest of women inventors during the period 1896 to 1990.
In 1993, women made up 33% of the audience at courses and other information events organized by the Danish Patent Office. The percentage reached 50% when it came to courses concerning the patenting of foodstuff and medicine - areas where there has been an increase in the number of patents granted to women during recent years. These figures prove the strong interest shown by women inventors to improve their knowledge of inventions and patents, traditionally considered a man's field.
Women inventors account for 9% of the inventors who seek advice and support annually from the Danish Technology Institute/Danish Innovation Centre. Again, this is a positive attitude when it is remembered that patents granted to women represented only 4.9% of the total.  It should be noted that women inventors have stressed that the exchange of experience with other inventors, e.g., within an inventor association such as DaFFO, is very important.
The report, while noting that women entrepreneurs represent 33% of new business growth in Denmark, stresses the necessity of promoting increased awareness among women of their potential for the development of new product ideas and the commercial follow-up.

 

Girls

by Dr Farag Moussa

They say girls are not interested in invention contests.  Experience in several countries proves the contrary.  When girls are encouraged to participate in invention contests for the young, their number increased year after year.  The statistics concerning the participation of girls in the young inventors' contest, Finn Opp, in Sweden are eloquent.

12%

24%

37%
43%
51%
50%
50%
56%

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1979

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1983

 

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1985

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1988

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1991

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1994

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1997

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2000

For more details on the subject go to our page on Youth entitled Girls and Inventions.

 

 

 

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