images: USPTO images: USPTO

Alexander Wang, Louis Vuitton, Bulgari, Nike, MaxMara, Yves Saint Laurent, Marc Jacobs, and Gucci have all added new U.S. patents to their arsenals of intellectual property protected designs in recent years, with fashion looking to this form of protection – which covers new, original, and ornamental design for an article of manufacture (for design patents) and new and useful processes, machine, manufacture, or composition of matter, or new and useful improvements thereof (those are covered by utility patents) – to safeguard many of their staple and hot-selling products from copycats.

This trend towards patent protection in fashion (and beyond) comes amidst a larger shift: The number of patents granted – for both fashion industry-specific and non-fashion-industry specific inventions – that include at least one woman inventor “has increased significantly over time.” However, according to a new study from the Institute of Women’s Policy Research, in 2018, “the world of inventors and entrepreneurs who commercialize intellectual property, however, still includes relatively few women and people of color.”

The Washington, D.C.-based think tank asserted in its recently-released study, Closing the Gender Gap in Patenting, Innovation, and Commercialization: Programs Promoting Equity and Inclusion, “Women remain sorely underrepresented” compared to men in terms of being granted patents by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, and women of color, particularly black and Hispanic women, are even less likely to obtain U.S. patent rights than white women and men.

The report’s co-authors, Elyse Shaw, M.A., and Cynthia Hess, Ph.D., note that according to the most recent data (which was compiled in 2015), only 18.8 percent of all patents granted had at least one woman listed as an inventor of the protected invention. Still yet, the number is smaller for women of color, particularly black and Hispanic women.

This remains true, even as women of color “are leading in the growth of new female-owned businesses over the last two decades,” according to a new study.

The number of women as “the first inventor” on patents is up from years prior, with only 5.6 percent being named first on patents issued between 1980 and 2010, but gender parity is still far off, according to Institute of Women’s Policy Research, which predicts that at recent rates of change, women will not see parity in patenting until 2092.

Women, as a whole, lag behind men in terms of patent ownership for a number of reasons. “Women are less likely than men to enter and advance in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (‘STEM’),” for instance, and are “less likely to patent their inventions when they do.” Moreover, the study notes that “obtaining a patent can be expensive and the costs can be disproportionately prohibitive to women, since they tend to earn less than men, and have less access to capital when they start businesses, which can make it difficult for them to cover expenses like hiring a patent attorney.”

The Institute of Women’s Policy Research’s report comes on the heels of a study from community-led invention platform Quirky, which held that as of early 2017, 81 percent of all patents filed do not name a single woman inventor at all. The Institute hopes to help change this by way of its findings, which will ideally assist in “fostering broader cultural change in patenting, innovation, and entrepreneurship through awareness-raising campaigns and speaking about the importance of diversity to broader audiences, including students, faculty, and staff at universities; stakeholders in local communities; and investors.”