Press release

Female inventorship on the rise worldwide

New research from UK Intellectual Property Office reveals global gender breakdown of inventorship.

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  • top inventor names revealed
  • £750,000 government funding to be awarded to 15 women this week

This week the government will announce £750,000 funding for 15 female inventors as new research from the UK Intellectual Property Office (IPO) reveals that female inventorship is on the rise worldwide.

The winners, each receiving £50,000 as part of Innovate UK’s Women in Innovation award, will be announced on Tuesday 15 November during Global Entrepreneurship Week.

IPO analysis of patent applications has shown that the gender gap in worldwide patenting, while substantial, is now decreasing.

Since 2000 there has been a 60% increase in the proportion of female inventors worldwide. However absolute numbers remain relatively low. In 2000 only 6.8% of all inventors worldwide were female, in 2015 this rose to 11.5%.

In the UK female inventorship has risen by 16% in the last 10 years alone, and the UK has recently been ranked best place to patent in the world in Taylor Wessing’s Global Intellectual Property Index. The government recognises that there is more to do to help budding female inventors realise their potential as part of creating an economy that works for everyone.

Data drawn from more than 234 years’ worth of patent applications has revealed that the proportion of female inventors varies by country. Russia (15.7%) and France (11.7%) have the highest proportion of female inventors while countries such as Germany (5.5%) and Japan (3.7%) have some of the lowest. In Britain the proportion of female inventors is 7.3%.

The highest proportion of female inventors are in chemistry fields such as biotechnology and pharmaceuticals, while the lowest proportion of female inventorship is seen in mechanical engineering.

The research also notes that patent applications often involve a team of inventors and that women are increasingly involved in such teams. In 2014 over 25% of worldwide patent applications involved at least one female inventor.

The examination of records has also revealed the most common names of inventors by country. In the UK the most common names of inventors are:

Male Female
David Susan
John Helen
Michael Sarah
Peter Elizabeth
Andrew Alison

British women have been responsible for a number of major inventions over the past 100 years including:

  • Rosalind Franklin: who played a key role in the discovery of DNA
  • Ada Lovelace: considered the ‘first computer programmer’ in 19th century, she wrote the first algorithm to be carried out by a computing machine
  • Sarah Guppy: who invented a machine for the safe piling of bridge foundations used by Brunel to build the Clifton suspension bridge
  • Hertha Marks Ayrton: refused a Cambridge maths degree because of her gender, her inventions improved arc lamps that were used as searchlights in both world wars
  • Anne McLaren: her work was key to the birth of the first test tube baby and development of IVF

Baroness Neville Rolfe, Minister of State for Energy and Intellectual Property said:

It is very promising that women are increasingly bringing their innovative ideas to life, and we are providing more talented women around the country with the funding opportunities they need to develop their business ideas and help to build an economy that works for all.

Entrepreneurs and small businesses are the backbone of our economy and I want to see even more women being given the support they need to bring their business plans to market.

Dr. Ruth McKernan, Chief Executive of Innovate UK added:

Recent analysis indicates that only 14% of applicants to Innovate UK competitions are women. We are seeking to redress this balance via our ‘InFocus Campaign’ which celebrates, supports and enables women through a package of business support, plus a £50,000 individual grant to develop their innovations.

There are so many talented women with great business ideas. The UK economy would be improved by a better gender balance in our entrepreneurs and business leaders.

Notes to Editors

1) The UK Intellectual Property Office is responsible for Intellectual Property (IP) rights in the United Kingdom, including patents, designs, trade marks and copyright.

2) Female Invention case studies:

Mastodon C case study:

Mastodon C

Seating Matters case study:

Seating Matters

Joyeeta Das case study:

Joyeeta Das

Jenny Griffiths (Snap Fashion) case study:

Jenny Griffiths (Snap Fashion)

3) Top 10 countries: Female inventors

Inventor country % male % female
Russia (including USSR) 87.3% 12.7%
France 88.3% 11.7%
China 89.9% 10.1%
Taiwan 90.2% 9.8%
United States of America 91.3% 8.7%
United Kingdom 92.7% 7.3%
Switzerland 93.3% 6.7%
Germany 94.5% 5.5%
South Korea 95.6% 4.4%
Japan 96.3% 3.7%
Published 14 November 2016