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Open Access Inclusive Pathways to Invention: Racial and Ethnic Diversity Among Collegiate Student Inventors in a National Prize Competition

We present novel evidence from over 2,000 student inventors from colleges and universities across the United States who applied to a prestigious national prize. These unique data provide us with self-reported information about gender, race, and ethnicity for students earlier on the "pathway to invention" — young people who have already shown evidence of their inventiveness and are among those likely to be future patent holders. First, we show that 14% of prize applicants are from under-represented minority (URM) groups, which is a smaller gap than estimates of the racial/ethnic gap in patenting. We find striking differences in the focus of the inventions being created by URM inventors, particularly at the intersection of gender and race: URM men are much more likely than all other groups to work on consumer-oriented inventions and less likely to work on health care inventions. URM women are similar to non-URM students in being most likely to work on health care inventions. Differences by field of study show that URM men are more likely than other groups to come from business, and URM women are more likely to come from biological sciences. Finally, we show that slightly more URM applicants come from public research universities. A fruitful area for future research is examining the ways different types of universities support the development of URM students as inventors and contribute to URM students' continuation on the pathway to invention.


Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Department of Economics, University of Massachusetts Amherst, Amherst, MA, USA 2: Lemelson-MIT Program, School of Engineering, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA, USA

Publication date: December 1, 2022

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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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