The lack of recognition of the ingenuity of “women inventors” is causing stress to talented women in medical research.
Jessica Adamson- C19 news
A study published in Science reveals that few women hold biomedical patents, which has an effect on the number of patented products focusing on women’s health.
It is well known that women are less present than men in the fields of science and technology, but it is also important to know that the consequences of this imbalance go beyond mere unequal representation in the labor market. Researchers from McGill University, Harvard Business School, and the University of Navarra in Barcelona have found that the gender gap among inventors creates inequalities in the population that benefits from inventions.
“Although the percentage of bio-medical patents held by female inventors has risen from 6.3% to 16.2% over the last 30 years, men still clearly dominate the field. As a result, health inventions tend to serve the needs of men more than women,” says John-Paul Ferguson, associate professor at McGill University’s Desautels Faculty of Management.
To sort inventions according to who they are aimed at, the researchers analyzed the text of 441,504 medical patent applications filed between 1976 and 2010 using a machine learning process. Their findings: biomedical inventions patented by women were up to 35% more likely to benefit women’s health than biomedical products created by men, and were more often focused on diseases that affect only or primarily women, such as breast cancer, postpartum preeclampsia, fibromyalgia, and lupus. Female inventors tend to create products for women, but patents for such products are fewer because few inventors are women.
During the study period, only a quarter of all patent applications were filed by inventor teams that included women. The researchers also found that women scientists were 40% less likely to commercialize their ideas than their male counterparts. The causes of this gap are numerous, from differences in access to mentoring to the barriers women face when trying to commercialize products aimed at women,” said the researchers, “Our results suggest that this gender gap has robbed us of thousands of inventions for women since 1976. If there had been as many female inventors as male inventors during that period, an additional 6,500 products for women would have been brought to market,” says Rembrand Koning, assistant professor at Harvard Business School.
Gendered positions in biomedical research
The study also found that inventions developed by research teams composed entirely or mainly of men are more likely to meet the medical needs of men. In 34 of the 35 years from 1976 to 2010, these teams commercialized significantly more inventions aimed at men than products aimed at women.
Thus, inventors tended to focus on diseases and disorders that disproportionately affect men, such as Parkinson’s disease and sleep apnea. It was found that, overall, biomedical inventions developed between 1976 and 2010 primarily addressed the needs of men, regardless of the composition of the inventor teams.
Innovations by women, for women
The increased participation of women inventors also has more subtle benefits, the researchers found. Women inventors are more likely to look for ways to improve existing treatments for diseases that affect men and women equally, such as heart attacks, diabetes, and stroke, to make them more suitable for women.
They are also more likely to consider whether their ideas and inventions will affect women and men differently. For example, they will look at whether a drug has more adverse effects in women than in men. “Our results suggest that we could eliminate these invisible inequalities if there were more female inventors,” admits Rembrand Koning.
About this study
“Who do we invent for? Patents by women focus more on women’s health, but few women get to invent” by Rembrand Koning, Sampsa Samila, and John-Paul Ferguson was published in Science.