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Open Access Closing Diversity Gaps in Innovation: Gender, Race, and Income Disparities in Patenting and Commercialization of Inventions

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Women, people of color, and lower-income individuals patent inventions at significantly lower rates than their male, white, and wealthier counterparts. Fewer than 20 percent of all U.S. patents today list a woman as an inventor. Among college graduates, fewer than half as many African Americans and Hispanics hold patents, compared to their white counterparts. Moreover, a child born in the U.S. to a family living below the median income level is ten times less likely to receive a patent in his or her lifetime than a child born to a family in the top one percent of income.

These disparities hold back economic growth and U.S. leadership in innovation. Achieving greater gender, race, and income diversity in inventing and patenting would unlock a wealth of innovation, economic growth, and job creation that is now untapped, bringing new inventors, new ideas, and new technologies into the innovation pipeline.

The U.S. government, educational institutions, and private industry should adopt measures to promote broad participation in invention and patenting to ensure that women, people of color, and lower-income individuals can contribute equally to the innovation economy. U.S. public policy and private practice should reflect the imperative that broad participation in inventing and patenting drives continued U.S. leadership in the global innovation economy and promotes fundamental fairness. This article concludes with recommendations for policymakers concerning ways to close the gender, race, and income gaps that persist in the innovation ecosystem.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: June 1, 2018

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  • Technology and Innovation, edited and published by the National Academy of Inventors, is a forum for presenting information encompassing the entire field of applied sciences, with a focus on transformative technology and academic innovation. Regular features of T&I include commentaries contributed by the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) and in-depth profiles of Fellows of the National Academy of Inventors in every issue.

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