March 09, 2021

Hirono, Tillis, Velázquez, Stivers Introduce Bipartisan, Bicameral Bill to Close the Patent Gap Faced by Women, Minorities

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Senator Mazie K. Hirono (D-Hawaii), Senator Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), Congresswoman Nydia M. Velázquez (D-N.Y.), and Congressman Steve Stivers (R-Ohio) introduced the Inventor Diversity for Economic Advancement (IDEA) Act of 2021, bicameral, bipartisan legislation to close the gap that women, minorities, and others face when procuring patent rights in the United States. The same coalition introduced the IDEA Act in 2019.

“Our nation is home to millions of inventors—and we must do more to encourage women and minorities to secure patent rights. To keep leading in technological innovation, we must harness the potential of all Americans. I have long worked to boost opportunities for women and other underrepresented groups in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) fields. The IDEA Act will give us insight into what policies we can implement to support underrepresented groups in applying for patents, and help policymakers address these inequalities,”Senator Hirono said.

“Women and minority inventors have made some of the most significant inventions in this country’s history, yet studies show that only 22 percent of all U.S. patents list a woman as an inventor and that women only make up 13 percent of all inventors,” said Senator Tillis. “We must work to close this gap to ensure all Americans have the opportunity to innovate, and I am proud to reintroduce this bipartisan, bicameral legislation to get a better understanding of the background of individuals who apply for patents with the USPTO.”

“As Chairwoman of the House Small Business Committee, I see examples of the ways innovative entrepreneurs drive our country forward every day. Through tireless work and ingenuity, these inventors improve our quality of life and make America a better place,” said Chairwoman Velázquez. “We must ensure that all Americans have the same opportunity to contribute to our society through innovation. This bill will make the U.S. patent system more equitable and allow more women, people of color, and other disadvantaged groups to develop their inventions. By making the patent process more inclusive, we will help drive economic growth and elevate communities hurt by longstanding discriminatory barriers.”

“From Josephine Cochrane, the inventor of the automatic dishwasher, to Mary Sherman Morgan, one of the first female rocket scientists, Ohio has helped launch the careers of countless inventors. This bill builds on their legacies by ensuring that women and minorities are able to access and utilize the patent system, and encourages IDEAs from all walks of life,” Congressman Stivers said.

The IDEA Act is cosponsored by Senators Chris Coons (D-Del.) and Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.).

Studies show that women and minorities apply for and obtain patents at significantly lower rates than their male, white counterparts. Only 22 percent of U.S. patents list at least one woman as an inventor and that women make up only 13 percent of all inventors. African American and Hispanic college graduates apply for patents at approximately half the rate of their white counterparts.

The IDEA Act works to close those gaps by directing the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) to collect demographic data—including gender, race, and military or veteran status—from patent applicants on a voluntary basis. It further requires the USPTO to both issue reports on the data collected and make the data available to the public, thereby allowing outside researchers to conduct their own analyses and offer insights into the various patent gaps in our society. The full text of the IDEA Act is available here. A one-page summary of the bill is available here.

“The reintroduction of the IDEA Act is a crucial step toward ensuring that our nation’s inventors have equal access to our innovation ecosystem, regardless of gender, race, or income. Invent Together applauds this important effort to gather the data we need to build a more diverse and inclusive patent system,” Holly Fechner, Executive Director of Invent Together, said.

“For too long, researchers have used names and zip codes as proxies for gender, race, and income to study the diversity gaps in patenting,” said Dr. C. Nicole Mason, President and CEO of the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. “The IDEA Act will provide us with the information needed to better understand and address the patent disparities among women, people of color, and other underrepresented groups.” 

“As America’s leading research universities know, the best science requires all the best minds available – and the innovation economy that stems from university-based research grows faster when all inventors have access to markets for their innovations,” said Association of American Universities President Barbara Snyder. “The Association of American Universities strongly supports the IDEA Act, which will provide tools to create more equitable pathways to support university-based inventors of all backgrounds.”

“The Biotechnology Innovation Organization believes that diversity is important not just as a matter of simple justice, but as a necessity in this competitive world. We cannot afford to waste talent, and must draw on the creative capacities of our entire population. That is especially true in the biosciences where the US leads the world in innovation,” said Dr. Michelle McMurry-Heath, BIO’s President and CEO. “The IDEA Act is vital to giving us a clear picture of where we are and what needs to be done to move forward. BIO commends Senators Hirono and Tillis, and Representatives Velazquez and Stivers, for this important legislation, and we urge its swift enactment.”

“The IDEA Act will significantly advance our knowledge about the barriers facing women technologists and help us better support our future leaders in science and technology.  It is critically important that we have a full understanding of who is inventing and patenting to move forward with the right solutions,” Brenda Darden Wilkerson, President and CEO of AnitaB.org, said.

IPO Executive Director Jessica Landacre said “IPO and IPO Education Foundation support the IDEA Act because collecting data is crucial for measuring progress toward greater inclusion of all underrepresented groups in the patent system. We hope Congress will pass the IDEA Act as soon as possible.” 

The IDEA Act is part of Senator Hirono’s efforts to increase diversity in the patent system and STEM fields. In December, the Senator led a letter calling on the USPTO to reevaluate its requirements for application to the patent bar to address claims that qualified women candidates were being unnecessarily excluded. In April 2020, the Senator led a letter with 13 of her colleagues calling on the National Science Foundation (NSF) to continue its efforts to strengthen the STEM pipeline by maintaining funding for its programs that broaden participation for underrepresented groups.

In 2016, the Senator convened a Senate Small Business Committee and Entrepreneurship field hearing at Maui High School to hear from national experts, including NSF, and local stakeholders regarding the importance of promoting more women and minorities in the STEM workforce. In 2019, Senator Hirono reintroduced her legislative plan to increase opportunities for women and minorities in STEM, which included two bills that would improve diversity and competitiveness in the STEM workforce by making sure women and minority students have opportunities to succeed.

###