July 25, 2019

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

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, 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 bicameral, bipartisan legislation, the Inventor Diversity for Economic Advancement Act (“IDEA Act”) of 2019. The IDEA Act is designed to help close the gap faced by women, minorities, and others when it comes to procuring patent rights in the United States.

“The United States has long been a global leader in terms of technological innovation. But if we expect to continue that leadership in the future, we need to harness the potential of all Americans,” Senator Hirono said. “I have long championed increased opportunities for women and other underrepresented groups in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) fields. Making sure those same people have equal access to the patent system is not just the right thing to do, but it will also grow our economy and ensure American leadership in science and technology for decades to come.”

“As Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Intellectual Property, we recently held a hearing on the troubling barriers women and minorities face to obtain patents in the United States,” Senator Tillis said. “Women and racial minorities have made some of the most significant inventions in this country’s history, and yet a recent USPTO study found that only 21 percent of all U.S. patents list a woman as an inventor, and that women only make up 12 percent of all inventors. We must work to close this gap so we can ensure all Americans have the opportunity to innovate, and I am proud to introduce this bipartisan, bicameral legislation to get a better understanding of the background of individuals who apply for patents with the USPTO.”

“On the House Small Business Committee, I see every day how innovation and invention drive entrepreneurship and create greater opportunity,” Congresswoman Nydia M. Velázquez, Chairwoman of the House Small Business Committee, said. “This legislation will drive better policy that ultimately helps more women, people of color and other traditionally disadvantaged groups obtain patents for their inventions, bring new products to markets, creating jobs and enhancing our nation’s competitiveness along the way. I thank all my House and Senate colleagues for joining me in introducing this measure.”

“There are more than 11.6 million businesses owned by women nationwide, and yet, only a fifth of patents list female inventors,” Congressman Stivers said. “We know that intellectual property rights make our businesses stronger and more successful, and we know that women-owned businesses generate over $1.7 trillion in sales – ensuring that women and minorities are utilizing the patent system just makes sense for our economy.  I’m proud to work with this bipartisan coalition to encourage IDEAs from all walks of life, because you never know where the next big thing will come from.”

“The Innovation Alliance commends Representatives Velazquez and Stivers and Senators Tillis and Hirono for introducing the IDEA Act in both the Senate and House. This legislation takes critical steps needed to improve diversity in patenting, which will help in promoting American innovation and competitiveness. We urge Congress to take up and pass the IDEA Act as soon as possible,” Innovation Alliance Executive Director Brian Pomper said.

Studies show that women, minorities, and economically disadvantaged individuals apply for and obtain patents at significantly lower rates than their male, white, and wealthier counterparts. Only 21 percent of U.S. patents list at least one woman as an inventor. African American and Hispanic college graduates apply for patents at approximately half the rate of their white counterparts. Additionally, children born to families with incomes below the U.S. median income receive patents at less than ten percent the rate of children born to families in the top one percent.

The IDEA Act would close these gaps by directing the United States Patent and Trademark Office (“USPTO”) to collect demographic data – including gender, race, military or veteran status, and income level, among others – from patent applicants on a voluntary basis. It further requires the USPTO to 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.

Senator Hirono is a longstanding advocate for federal programs that promote STEM opportunities for women, minorities, and the economically disadvantaged. Earlier this year, Senator Hirono led a letter with eleven 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 2017, 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.

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