By: Bonnie Smith

Although they are entering the science and engineering fields at increasing rates than in previous years, women still only account for a small minority of inventors listed on U.S. patents.  In a 2019 report, female inventors account for just under 13% of the patent applications globally - and they exist primarily in gender-mixed inventor teams, rather than as stand alone innovators. Research suggests that the lack of female representation in the patent field is a direct result of not enough women working in the historically male-dominated STEM education and research career paths – a cause which many institutions are actively working to change. 

Despite the disparity in gender representation, a wide array of popular technologies have certainly benefitted from female inventors. Chemist Stephanie Kwolek was granted a patent for Kevlar® which is used in gloves, bike tires, etc. Originally considered a failure by her peers, Kwolek’s  invention was the result of her recognizing the material strength as compared with steel.  In automotive engineering, people recognize Karl Benz, Gottlieb Daimler, and Henry Ford for their significant automotive accomplishments, but driving in rain would actually not be all that pleasant an experience if not for inventor Mary Anderson.  She was granted a patent for windshield wipers, despite car manufacturers originally considering the invention to not have any commercial value.

Medical technologies have also benefitted from female inventorship.  Patricia Bath was the first African-American female doctor to receive a patent for medical purposes in 1981 for preventing blindness caused by cataracts. Ann Tsukamato is an active inventor who was granted the first patent for stem cell isolation, where she continues to to advance innovation in that industry. 

Today, women are continuing to disrupt the patent industry and make waves with their inventorship.  In June 2020, five female polymer chemists at L’Oréal were issued a patent for a transfer-resistant cosmetic composition having improved tackiness.  This inventor team sets an inspiring precedent for innovation by becoming one of the few all-female led teams!

Women have long made history in innovation, and the stories from the likes of Marie Curie, Rosalind Franklin or Grace Hopper continue to inspire future inventors. And although achieving gender parity in patents is predicted to be close to the year 2070, the proportion of women inventors has doubled over the last 20 years, with the numbers of women entering the STEM industries also continuing to grow.