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Piece of the Patents

Although the portion of women who have filed for patents is lower than would be expected given their representation in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields, patent filings by women are rising, according to an analysis appearing in PLOS One.

Researchers from the US and Canada sifted through the 4.6 million utility patents issued between 1976 and 2013 by the United States Patent and Trade Office. After determining the gender of the inventors listed, the researchers found that women contributed 2.7 percent of patents in 1976, a figure that rose to 10.8 percent in 2013.

In particular, they note that women seeking patents were more likely to work in an academic environment than in a corporate or government setting.

"To find out that women are patenting at higher rates in academia compared to industry, government, and individuals is a surprising discovery," says first author Cassidy Sugimoto, an associate professor at Indiana University Bloomington in a statement. "We had thought it might fall lower since patenting in still considered 'optional' in terms of promotion in academia, although it's increasingly encouraged."

This increase in patents filed by women in recent years, especially by women working in academia, could be due to the Bayh-Dole Act, the researchers says, which encourages universities to develop technology transfer offices to enable the commercialization of scientific findings.