Why Don’t Women Patent?

by on March 22, 2012 at 7:35 am in Economics, Law | Permalink

In Why Don’t Women Patent?, a recent NBER paper, Jennifer Hunt et al. present a stark fact: Only 5.5% of the holders of commercialized patents are women. One might think that this is explained by the relative lack of women with science and engineering degrees but Hunt et al. find that “women with such a degree are scarcely more likely to patent than women without.” Instead, most of the difference is “accounted for by differences among those with a science or engineering degree” especially the fact that women are underrepresented in patent-intensive fields such as electrical and mechanical engineering and in development and design.

Predictably, the authors do not ask why women might self-select into non patent-intensive fields, perhaps because this would require at least a discussion of politically incorrect questions. The failure to investigate these questions leads to some dubious conclusions, notably:

Closing the [gender] gap among S&E degree holders would increase commercialized patents by 24% and GDP per capita by
2.7%.

Right; and since only 10% of construction workers are women, closing the gender gap would result in many more houses. In the case of construction, my suspicion is that gender equality would reduce not increase the amount of construction. In the case of patents, I am not sure what would happen, indeed the point is that without a much better understanding of what causes differences in patent proclivities one shouldn’t jump to conclusions.

The quick jump from patents to innovation is also unwarranted–there is very little evidence that patents increase innovation. Moreover, most innovations are not patented. If we measured innovation more closely it wouldn’t surprise me if women accounted for a larger share of innovation than they do of patents.

By the way, both my wife and I are working to rectifiy these statistics, she has half-a-dozen patents and I have none.

Addendum: Freakonomics/Marketplace has a podcast on this topic.

Andrew' March 22, 2012 at 7:45 am

“she has half-a-dozen patents and I have none.”

You status whore… ;)

Graple March 22, 2012 at 8:05 am

You could have pointed to the Economic Logic post that made exactly this point: Women do not patent.

Andrew' March 22, 2012 at 8:09 am

When my roommates were in Mechanical engineering, if I remember correctly (the orders of magnitude are right) there were >100 people in the class. 2 females.

Andrew' March 22, 2012 at 8:16 am

(and by >100, I mean ~300, but that seems really high to me right now)

The Original D March 22, 2012 at 3:50 pm

A woman I know who recently worked for NASA — that’s right, she was literally a rocket scientist — says the ratio at her undergrad for aerospace at University of Washington was about 5-6:1. That was the ending rate, not sure what it was before people switched majors.

David March 22, 2012 at 8:09 am

The conclusion about the effects of closing the gender gap sure is a strange one. I’d like to see how they came to those conclusions, especially given that they also concluded that men are relatively more likely to patent than women even with the same backgrounds. Assuming patents are a good thing and we want more of them (a big assumption), wouldn’t economists want to do so in the most efficient way possible, which would mean acknowledging the comparative advantage that men seem to have in that area?

Marie March 22, 2012 at 8:45 am

I’d be interested to see the gap in patent-intensive areas that women are well represented in, such as biomedical device design.

Miley Cyrax March 22, 2012 at 8:50 am

This can’t be because men are better at and more interested in certain things than women. This has to be some insidious discriminatory conspiracy.

We need gender quotas for patents to fight this injustice, or maybe we should just award patents earned by men to women.

Dean March 22, 2012 at 9:29 am

The question is “why are men better at and more interested in certain things than women?” I get the feeling that you feel it is something intrinsic, an issue of nature rather than nurture. If this is not the case, then this discrepancy is something that should be considered, the causes studied, and solutions prepared.

Andrew' March 22, 2012 at 9:45 am

Where is the study that shows it is/isn’t the case?

Finch March 22, 2012 at 9:59 am

Suppose it was 100% nurture. Why would that imply a need for solutions?

Phill March 22, 2012 at 10:37 am

Uhm, why wouldn’t it imply a need for solutions? We’d be systemically discriminating against women.

prasad March 22, 2012 at 10:48 am

Not necessarily. Differences in interests and preferences can be cultural while being benign. Indeed, the question of whether a difference is harmful/unfortunate has little to do with whether it’s intrinsic – men have greater interest in car-chase movies than women. In itself that’s benign to me, period. I don’t care whether it’s because women have something-something gene or men have such and such hormone, or women are given dolls to play with. So long as no-one’s being forced to watch movies they don’t like, and we’re not arbitrarily deeming male/female preferred movies better (eg for awards) because of which gender likes them, who cares? With patents, it seems what really matters is some sort of quality weighted total – how many good innovations there are. If you can increase that by tweaking the gender balance, great! The rest is important only if there’s discrimination. It doesn’t matter whether any remaining differences are produced by genes or culture..

Finch March 22, 2012 at 10:51 am

If you raise daughters to like to wear dresses and sons to like to wear pants, is that discrimination?

It seems that the mechanism matters a lot here. If women want to go into engineering and then feel stymied because of sexism, that seems bad, but it’s not at all obvious that’s what’s occurring.

Newt March 22, 2012 at 2:58 pm

Considering the relative pay and esteem accorded to medicine, law, and politics over invention and engineering in America, higher rates of engineering achievement is an indication of systematic discrimination against men.

Dean March 22, 2012 at 8:01 pm

Newt: According to this: http://online.wsj.com/public/resources/documents/info-Degrees_that_Pay_you_Back-sort.html
Engineering degrees are just about the highest paid degrees out there. Not that your post would make sense anyway. Medicine, Law, and Politics are all male dominated fields. Even in the traditionally female dominated parts of medicene: Female nurses get paid 86.5% of the amount Male nurses get paid:http://www.bls.gov/spotlight/2011/women/.

In fact, if you were to replace some of the things you wrote with the actual fields that women are paid more than men, the stupidity of your comment becomes all the more apparent:

“Considering the relative pay and esteem accorded to waitressing, account collecting, and order filling over invention and engineering in America, higher rates of engineering achievement is an indication of systematic discrimination against men.”

GiT March 22, 2012 at 11:02 am

Remove the presumed intentionality from ‘insidious’ and ‘conspiracy,’ and you’re pretty much on the right track.

Discrimination operates “secretly or subtly so as to not excite suspicion” and involves, “a combination of persons for an evil or unlawful purpose.”

It’s just no one is intending to be secretive or subtle and no one has an evil purpose in mind.

https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/

Cliff March 22, 2012 at 2:06 pm

Where did you come up with that? Who are you quoting? In my experience, discrimination tends to be quite vocal when it is present.

GiT March 22, 2012 at 2:39 pm

Ah, I see I was unclear.

I did not mean to imply that all discrimination operates as an insidious conspiracy. And the quotations are just from the OED.

Much discrimination is quite vocal. But not all discrimination is (in fact, I would say it tends to not be vocal when present, but the central tendency here isn’t really important).

As to ‘where I came up with it,’ some of the relevant literatures would be those on implicit bias, stereotype threat, and structural discrimination. (Or, more broadly, unintentional discrimination.)

The Original D March 22, 2012 at 3:52 pm

It can be, but not always. Orchestras were never vocal about their discrimination, but then they started conducting blind auditions and voila, the percentage of women who made the cut jumped dramatically.

Dean March 22, 2012 at 7:49 pm

You are missing a lot of discrimination if you are only paying attention to the vocal stuff. Stuff like the “male gaze” in film and advertising is not vocal in the slightest, but is extremely effective discrimination. In this case, it is discrimination in furthering the perception that men do interesting things while women simply exist to talk about and be desired by men. There are a lot of reasons this issue exist and few of them are intentional or vocal.

for more: http://www.bechdeltest.com

Miley Cyrax March 22, 2012 at 8:04 pm

Dean,

I’m surprised you didn’t link to tvtropes for Male Gaze and Bechdel Test while you were at it. However, art imitates life. Real life often fails the Bechdel Test, especially when you include discussions on fashion and style into an expanded Bechdel Test of sorts. Listening to my female coworkers talk to each other offends the sliver of feministicness in me.

Dean March 23, 2012 at 6:28 am

Miley,

I certainly wouldn’t doubt the unfortunate chicken and egg nature of the problem.

Orinatio March 22, 2012 at 8:55 am

I don’t know almost anything about patents, but I take it they are largely, or in many cases, filed in the name of individuals. To what extent are these individuals working by themselves, or in teams? Are these teams part of the patent filing, or just one or two leaders? To what extent are these teams made up women? And, in particular, to what extent are teams in which there are women, likely to be dominated by men, even if women were to have a relatively equal share in the contribution to the patent? Maybe she takes care of these potentially important details in the paper, I just didn’t have time to go over it.

Cliff March 22, 2012 at 10:18 am

All patents in the U.S. are filed in the names of the inventors. Most patents list two or more inventors. The average number of inventors listed has been climbing significantly. Generally, everyone who is involved in coming up with the invention is going to get listed on the patent.

Mark Thorson March 22, 2012 at 11:45 am

It’s not a valid patent if does not name all of the inventors.

Cliff March 22, 2012 at 2:07 pm

Well, inventorship is usually easily corrected if there was no intent to deceive, but yes attorneys try to be careful to get the inventorship correct and avoid problems.

babar March 22, 2012 at 9:09 am

maybe there is a system of shadow patents only perceptible to women?

prior_approval March 22, 2012 at 9:54 am

‘why women might self-select’
What a fascinating formulation – as if women alone are responsible for the situation.

Talk about political correctedness – this is perfect for the age we live in.

How many women does the GMU Econ dept. have, by the way? Checking, it seems like 4 (possibly five – one graduate lecturer get a generic mason pic) of 47 on the web site – what a fantastic example of female self-selection, as if the more than 90% male faculty has absolutely no possibility, none whatsoever, to influence that, neither at the level of teaching female students, nor at the level of deciding to offer positions based on something that the cynical just might consider something that is almost a parody of conservative beliefs in terms of what roles women play in academia.

Suddenly, a lot more of this blog’s perspective comes into very, very plain focus.

Sad, actually.

Andrew' March 22, 2012 at 10:03 am

Who said that there weren’t perfectly good exogenous reasons to self-select?

What is the name for looking for the worst? Is that the HAMM of Tyler’s post?

Andrew' March 22, 2012 at 10:07 am

Oh, and in my anecdotal experience half of the ChemEs were female, compared to 2/300 ME. There were no female ChemE professors.

Cliff March 22, 2012 at 10:20 am

Great, baseless accusations and hackery, thanks for your contribution.

albert magnus March 22, 2012 at 10:30 am

Are you suggesting economists (and physicists and engineers) are incredibly more sexist than lawyers and doctors?

albert magnus March 22, 2012 at 10:31 am

Meant to reply prior_approval.

prior_approval March 22, 2012 at 10:47 am

Well, to reply to the collective, let’s use another quote -
‘In the case of construction, my suspicion is that gender equality would reduce not increase the amount of construction.’

And why would that be? Quite seriously – why would one group of competent builders be better than another group of competent builders? – assuming, of course, that the second group could become competent builders through, you know, getting a job and actually doing construction. A point nicely illustrated by this – ‘Oh, and in my anecdotal experience half of the ChemEs were female, compared to 2/300 ME. There were no female ChemE professors.’

And I’ll assume that the very disconnect in the rate of students and faculty has nothing, nothing at all, to do in how the department offers positions, and everything to do with ‘self-selection.’ Well, a certain type of selection, obviously, but I don’t think that it is women making that choice.

Truly, keep writing with the objections – they are as illuminating in pointing out what is wrong as they are sad.

Andrew' March 22, 2012 at 11:11 am

There are two majors, ChemE and ME. ME had as many if not more female professors. Women chose ChemE.

Andrew' March 22, 2012 at 11:14 am

And there aren’t many patents in economics. Looking at patents is kind of ridiculous anyway. It’s like asking “why are there so few elite black golfers and tennis players…except for Tiger Woods and the Williams Sisters.” You are so far past 6 Sigma it’s crazy to even look at it, except for the fact that data is available.

Andrew' March 22, 2012 at 11:30 am

Btw, PA who are you areguing with? The person who said that demographic feedback has NOTHING to do with major selection?

Who would that be?

Non Papa March 22, 2012 at 12:48 pm

Are you going to make an argument at some point?

Cliff March 22, 2012 at 2:11 pm

Well since you don’t have any evidence, lets just assume the worst and apply your own bias. WARNING: Persons denying the existence of Robots may be Robots themselves!

sc March 23, 2012 at 12:23 am

From one of Tyler’s earlier posts:

“When I see people writing sentences of this kind, I imagine them pressing a little button which makes them temporarily less intelligent. Because, indeed, that is how one’s brain responds when one employs this kind of emotionally charged rhetoric.

As you go through life and read various writers, I want you to keep this idea of the button in mind. As you are reading, think “Ah, he [she] is pressing the button now!” “

Millian March 23, 2012 at 5:55 pm

Of course, when you say government is evil because it infringes on liberty, that’s not pressing the button.

And of course, if you believe offensive things, it’s in your interest to say that offended people are just being dumb.

sc March 25, 2012 at 10:19 am

“Of course, when you say government is evil because it infringes on liberty, that’s not pressing the button.”

No, I agree that too is pressing the button.

It’s just that prior_approval’s arguments don’t get anywhere near addressing the points made and I would think that s/he would clearly see this if indignation had not taken over. Alex never said self selection would be the only reason, and he never said female construction workers would be less competent, merely that he suspected aggregate construction would decrease if there was gender inequality in that profession. Alex suggests “one shouldn’t jump to conclusions” in assessing the cause of gender differences in proclivity to patent in contrast we get extremely jumpy responses:

“And I’ll assume that the very disconnect in the rate of students and faculty has nothing, nothing at all, to do in how the department offers positions, and everything to do with ‘self-selection.’ Well, a certain type of selection, obviously, but I don’t think that it is women making that choice.”

Even though in a different major (Mech. Eng.) the disconnect was in the opposite direction.

Every time I get worked up about something I read I just tell myself to stop thinking I’m playing for a team. Tribalism – there’s no surer way to lose your objectivity.

chuck martel March 22, 2012 at 10:17 am

My sister built a pretty nifty laser death ray machine and was going to patent it but I stole the plans and hid them in the basement behind the water heater. Now she cleans rooms at a motel and I’m a mortgage analyst.

Evil Genius March 22, 2012 at 10:59 am

Cash waiting if it can be attached to a shark.

The Hon. Sen. Palpatine March 22, 2012 at 11:29 am

+1

Andrew' March 22, 2012 at 11:35 am

Can you imagine if Goldfinger had that laser beam attached to a shark? Mr. Bond would have talked then!

Norman Pfyster March 22, 2012 at 12:12 pm

Thus combining the villain weapons in Goldfinger and Thunderball.

The Original D March 22, 2012 at 3:54 pm

Prior art!

Careless March 23, 2012 at 12:31 am

But he isn’t want him to talk.

Careless March 23, 2012 at 6:23 pm

Didn’t

asdf March 22, 2012 at 10:24 am

Necessity is the mother of invention. Women almost never feel necessity, because the basics will always be provided for them by default.

GiT March 22, 2012 at 10:43 am

*For “women”, read “some women”; for “always”, read “often”; for “by default” read, “by convention”.

The Hon. Sen. Palpatine March 22, 2012 at 11:30 am

While I agree with (what I infer are) your priors in this place GiT, even the edited version is a very strong statement.

asdf March 22, 2012 at 1:15 pm

What % of women go homeless?
What % of women live in poverty?
What % of women can’t get laid?
What % of women can’t have a child and raise it whenever they want?
What % of women won’t qualify for welfare for themselves and their children?
What % of women can’t get married (to someone) anytime they want?
What % of men always have the fallback option of being paid 100s of dollars an hour to lay on their back for awhile regardless of having any skills or ability?

This stuff isn’t by convention. Its a function of biology. Its innate. Women have vag and uteruses. Everyone wants vag and uteruses. These things put a floor on how low womens value to sink. They never have to face oblivion the way men do.

Patents are mostly the result of male sex drive. The overwhelming desire to be as sexually successful as possible by taking chances and conquering. The fact that sexual rewards are distributed exponentially to men only heightens the winner take all mindset that allows greatness.

The Hon. Sen. Palpatine March 22, 2012 at 1:28 pm

I agree with your penultimate conclusion, that our society puts a floor on how bad women can have it economically. I disagree with the implication that women are valuable insofar as they are the product of their sexual organs. You also forget our species does some awful things to women and overwhelmingly to them e.g. domestic abuse, rape.

But:

Even accounting for innate biological differences (and ensuing developmental biases), are you seriously arguing there’s NO social convention at work here? If so, nice move tossing complexity out the window. You were a quant, you should know better regarding multivariate systems. That’s a sharp turn in the direction of biological determinism.

Cliff March 22, 2012 at 2:13 pm

True story, more men are raped each year than women.

The Hon. Sen. Palpatine March 22, 2012 at 2:49 pm

@ Cliff, by your wording I presume you mean victims (and in the United States). Glancing at available data on my phone indicates otherwise rather strongly. I’m using wikipedia’s data. If you mean incidents, I might believe it, due to the effects of the US Prison system. But once you go globally, I strongly stand by my assertion, if only because war crimes in sub-Saharan Africa will probably outweigh the US penal system.

The Hon. Sen. Palpatine March 22, 2012 at 1:29 pm

Also plenty of women can’t have kids whenever they want, menopause is a factor and adoption lines for white kids are quite long (assuming we’re talking about Americans who want a race-matched kid).

GiT March 22, 2012 at 2:58 pm

Even if we grant your ridiculous, ‘women always have the option of selling their body for sex, ergo they are free from necessity,’ point, it is simply not true that all women are able to sell sex on a whim. This is obvious, but your misogyny says otherwise so there we go.

As to the litany of questions, in the US:

1. 1/269 (1/145 for men)
2. 20/100 (18/100 for men)
…and after that the questions just get incredibly stupid and telling.

“[Women] never have to face oblivion the way men do.”

Right, because being alone and pregnant and unable to support oneself is actually less dismal than being alone and unable to support oneself.

I really shouldn’t bother.

The Hon. Sen. Palpatine March 22, 2012 at 4:40 pm

Plus, able to have sex on a whim (if true) doesn’t necessarily equate to having sex with someone you actually desire. That’s not even internally consistent with his other views.

So Much For Subtlety March 24, 2012 at 9:33 pm

I would find it a little hard to think of a woman who could not sell sex on a whim. We know that in the old days women, and especially single mothers, had to marry. There was little social security to support them. Presumably they did not marry the sort of men they would like to marry – the sort of men that women these days refuse to marry. Nor is it likely they married them because they liked them – the huge drop in marriage rates proves that. How is that not selling sex?

Women are rarely alone and unable to support themselves. Nor do they get pregnant by magic. They make choices and they have a vast welfare state to back them up when those choices do not work out. This is why homeless women are more common than they used to be but still rare. There is a bottom of the market for women in a way there isn’t for men.

The Original D March 23, 2012 at 1:37 am

Yeah all those single moms have no needs whatsoever

Colin March 22, 2012 at 10:32 am

I’m curious if the trend is durable in Design Patents… Also, since most patents are mech and business methods (comp sci), if those fields are controlled, does the distinction disappear? IE: if we take the base rate of women in the fields, is their patenting proclivity more or less in line with men.

I have yet to read the paper, obviously, so I don’t know if these are answered.

Colin March 22, 2012 at 10:34 am

Ahh, I see that I did not read Alex carefully enough…

Ryan March 22, 2012 at 10:36 am

There is no answer the question “Why don’t women patent.” There is only an answer to the question, “Why didn’t you, Ms. Woman, patent?”

As I repeat over and over ad nauseum, every statement about a general category of people is simultaneously both true and false because you can always find women who patent and women who don’t patent. I assume they are individuals with individual life experiences, not some economic category whose details can be assessed with the Best Linear Unbiased Estimator…

What I’d like to have read is why Alex’s wife thinks more women don’t hold patents.

GiT March 22, 2012 at 10:54 am

” every statement about a general category of people is simultaneously both true and false because you can always find women who patent and women who don’t patent”

There are these things called probabilities, which describe the likelihood of truth and falsity but not truth or falsity per se, which have been pretty useful for understanding the world. Perhaps you should look into them. You might find yourself no longer having to repeat silly things ad nauseum.

Ryan March 22, 2012 at 11:11 am

Is the decision to register a patent a matter of probability?

There are these things called valid scientific methodologies…

GiT March 22, 2012 at 11:28 am

Depends what your theory of probability is.

Is it a theory of propensities?

Then yes.

Is it a theory of certainty of belief (Bayesian)?

Then yes.

Ryan March 22, 2012 at 11:58 am

Oh, of course. Then you would know the likelihood of whether a given individual had registered a patent but not whether a given individual had registered a patent per se.

Well, that certainly clarifies the given individual’s decision.

Dean March 22, 2012 at 7:52 pm

If you are right that the field of statistics offers no evaluative power, then the entire science of economics is worthless. Why are you here?

Ryan March 22, 2012 at 9:29 pm

You misunderstand me, Dean. Statistics is a powerful field when confined to its proper use. Statistics don’t determine human motives and reasons and should never pretend to do so.

Forecasts, trajectories, estimates, biometrics… these are all great situations for applying statistics.

But using some sort of statistical regression to “determine” why a human being registers a patent or engages in any other activity? Haha, no, sorry. Statistics does not have much to say about human motivation.

Set aside the demographics and just try to think about the character traits that could be effectively used to predict whether a person would register a patent: The person would have to have some knowledge of machinery or design; would have to have had opportunity to apply that knowledge to a particular problem; would have to believe that solving the problem is profitable; would have to believe they had a credible opportunity to engage in entrepreneurship; would have to have some investment capital…

By the time you’ve assembled a strong list of credible theoretical indicators, you already know who the patent holders are because the traits of such individuals make their identities obvious. Regression analysis would be a pretty poor substitute for aprioristic reasoning in this case, at least in my opinion.

Like I say, it’s a matter of applying the correct scientific methodology to the correct question. I certainly wouldn’t launch a satellite into orbit in order to find a cure for cancer; but my saying so doesn’t suggest I see no value in satellites.

Dean March 23, 2012 at 6:36 am

Ryan,

I see what you are saying. I think you are misinterpreting what the study is trying to do, though. Statistics could not determine WHY a human being registers a patent, but it certainly can tell us at whether or not people DO register patents at the same rate as expected.

If men and women register patents in the same proportion as the male/female engineer proportion, this wouldn’t be an article as the causes would be obvious. The study found that women register patents at worse than that proportion, leading people to wonder why. Most of the paper is speculation that follows from a study, rather than information gleaned from that study.

Eric H March 23, 2012 at 2:43 pm

What I’d like to have read is why Alex’s wife thinks more women don’t hold patents.

Why? Has she studied women who do and who do not hold them? If not, I don’t understand the interest. Mothers do not necessarily know more than obgyns about fetal development.

wiki March 22, 2012 at 11:00 am

It is easy to see this imbalance even at highly technical universities. At MIT and Caltech, women are more likely to go into Chem and Bio than Physics, Math, and EE. So it’s not just about degrees but degrees that are heavy in math or otherwise stereotypically masculine.

I will also conjecture that even within the same field, women are less likely to be represented in the math heavy, abstract areas of the subject. This can probably be verified for example, in economics with my prediction being that women prefer applied work, political economy, and development to pure theory and theoretical econometrics. Tyler probably knows whether this is true or not.

Andrew' March 22, 2012 at 11:38 am

It’s only because only men do those things that women choose not to!!! (hehe)

HmmHmm March 22, 2012 at 12:24 pm

Alex, make sure to quote your references. This post is a blatant rip-off from Economic Logic.

wsanman March 22, 2012 at 12:25 pm

This patent phenomena can be seen in the job market too::

In the days before the Internet really took over (early to mid ’90s), when my office needed a new receptionist, the boss would advertise the job in the local newspaper, and ask applicants to fax their applications to the office. A couple of days later there would be a pile of 50 to 100 applications sitting next to the fax machine. I would scan them in my spare time just because I was curious, and would note that we never had one single male applicant. I always thought that to be interesting, i.e. that it seems the sexes seem to apply only for jobs that traditionally are filled with folks of their own sex. So, women will freely apply for receptionist jobs, but not men. And men, will freely apply for construction jobs, but not women. And we read in the media that there is a wage gap between the sexes, and it is supposedly because of sexism by males discriminating against women. Perhaps it’s not those doing the hiring are to blame, but rather that the applicants are only applying for certain gender-specific jobs, and passing on the others.

Rahul March 22, 2012 at 12:26 pm

I hope nobody’s working on eliminating the gender-gap in cheer-leading….

k March 22, 2012 at 7:45 pm
wsanman March 22, 2012 at 12:26 pm

…and regarding my last comment:

The French have an apt phrase that celebrates the difference in the sexes, and I think it applies to this too:

Vive la différence!

Rahul March 22, 2012 at 12:38 pm

It’s interesting that this covers “commercialized patents”. If calculated over all patents it’d be interesting to see the numbers.

tony March 22, 2012 at 1:13 pm

Like, duh. Paging Dr. Occam. It’s obviously an IQ-distribution thing – men have more patents than women because there are many more men than women in the IQ 140 range, and this relationship is even more lopsided in the IQ 150 range, and even more lopsided still in the IQ 160 range. Etc etc, ad infinitum. All the rest is blah-blah-blah.

asdf March 22, 2012 at 1:18 pm

Yup. As someone in that part of the bell curve its a real lonely up here for men. Your odds of finding a woman on your level are 1/10 or worse.

Reagan Was Right March 22, 2012 at 7:26 pm

It feels very special to be in the presence of genius.

Michael Cain March 22, 2012 at 1:54 pm

Rather than IQ, I would have suggested a mental attitude that borders on mental illness: a fixation on or obsession with a particular problem to the exclusion of most other things. I’m the listed inventor on several patents, and all of them were the result of periods where I became obsessed with a particular problem. My wife, whose IQ is as high as mine, tolerated (but didn’t understand) such episodes. My sister used to describe it as, “Yes, he’s out of his mind sometimes, but in a useful sort of way.” Everything I read suggests that such conditions appear much more often in males than females.

Ego counts for something, too: the attitude that you *can* solve this problem, no matter what anyone says. I recall a comment made by a department head at Bell Labs many years ago: “Almost everyone in this building has an ego problem, and there are no cases where the problem is ‘it’s too small.’”

asdf March 22, 2012 at 3:24 pm

Because you rewarded for extremes with exponentially higher mating oppounities, while women can only get pregnant so many times. Thus your built to focus on being the absolute best at something and climbing to the very top of some hierarchy.

The same exact drive basically misfires in people who play videogames obsessively. When I played poker to excess it made me a lot of money and it was “cool”. When I played Starcraft to excess if didn’t make me any money and was lame. From my POV they were still just sitting at a computer playing a videogame, and they were driven by the exact same instincts.

asdf March 22, 2012 at 3:25 pm

And yeah, its true of raw IQ too. The male bell curve is a lot flatter (we also get more retards).

tony March 22, 2012 at 3:27 pm

I agree. It’s IQ plus personality constellations X Y or Z. But the main ingredient is still IQ; if you’re obsessive and conscientious and convinced that you can change the world, but only have an IQ of 105, I don’t think you’ll be able to come up with too many patents. In general, that is; there will always be exceptions/outliers.

The Original D March 22, 2012 at 3:57 pm

Given the PTO’s willingness to allow you to patent practically anything these days, I wonder if that’s still true, and I wonder how that affects the stats in the post.

Matt March 22, 2012 at 3:25 pm

Women take fewer risks than men, because they are wired to prefer safety and security. For every useful patent developed there are some number of patents that never turn into anything, meaning there is inherent risk involved.

asdf March 22, 2012 at 3:26 pm

Exactely. Innovative work is hard work, and everyone that doesn’t successfully patent something and get rich off it has nothing to show for it.

Slocum March 22, 2012 at 3:46 pm

Here’s a question — what if you pick fields where women are over represented (elementary education, veterinary medicine, nursing). Most teachers, vets, and nurses don’t have patents, but surely some do. What does the ratio look like there? I’d bet even when ~90% of the workers are female, a disproportionate number of patents (perhaps even a majority) come from the few males.

Rahul March 23, 2012 at 3:52 pm

I’ll add to your list:

Strippers, Cheerleaders, Hairdressers, Secretaries, Prostitutes, Fashion Models,

Peter March 22, 2012 at 5:11 pm

Poor Cliff.

figleaf March 23, 2012 at 1:22 am

“Moreover, most innovations are not patented. If we measured innovation more closely it wouldn’t surprise me if women accounted for a larger share of innovation than they do of patents.”

This, at least, is true. I’ll go a step further and say there would be even more patents by men if the majority of inventors weren’t so paranoid that “they’ll” steal the idea that the ideas never leave their basements. Women tend not to be as paranoid, or I’m guessing, as territorial about their inventions, and so on average I’m guessing they make it to market in much higher percentages than patent applications alone would suggest.

That doesn’t mean there’s not more that could be done to encourage women who have ideas to patent them. But as I mentioned above, I think you’re right that a better way to equalize things would be to encourage women to try and patent more of their inventions and men fewer. And in both cases just get their things on the market and exploit first-mover advantages.

Quick question for testing your hypothesis, Alex. See if you can get a rundown on the gender mix of registered and regular trademarks. If we’re right we should see a narrower gap.

figleaf

p.s. Based on my experience with a company that tried to help inventors get their ideas to market I gotta say that while there are obviously some very useful patents out there, and while some of them really do come out of tinkerers garages, a heck of a lot of ideas that at least get submitted to the Patent Office but never make it to market are…. patentable but also impractical and unmarketable.

Ray Lopez March 23, 2012 at 1:29 am

“The quick jump from patents to innovation is also unwarranted–there is very little evidence that patents increase innovation” -

Not true, a logical fallacy. This is the old lie that patents are irrelevant to innovation because Nobel Prize winners in Physics came up with revolutionary discoveries without the need for patents (since by definitions laws of nature cannot be patented), so then it follows that there is no need for patents. Common sense as well as my own career tells you that if you rewarded inventors for discovering something, they will produce more of it. People respond to incentives. Who can tell how much more innovation we would have if the people who went into science did so for not just for altruistic love of discovery but also for the profit motive? See for example Wall Street and how the best and brightest go into finance. Greed works (whether more finance is a good thing for the economy is another matter, but more innovation would be).

Andy March 23, 2012 at 2:11 am

At least in software, patents clearly hurt innovation significantly.

Andy March 23, 2012 at 2:10 am

Most patents are useless and arbitrary, so I question the value of looking at patents to gauge anything in particular.

Eric H March 23, 2012 at 2:54 pm

Are there any studies that look at the use of trade secret and gender? My wife can generate commercially viable processes, almost at will. She rarely comes across anything worth patenting in her industry.

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