“Study finds gender patent gap in life sciences”

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Male academic scientists in life sciences secure patents at more than twice the rate of their female colleagues, according to a new study by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation and researchers at Haas School of Business, University of California, Berkeley.

According to Gender Differences in Patenting in the Academic Life Scientists, published in the Aug. 3 issue of Science magazine, female academic scientists patent at about 40 percent the rate of men.

The study, which took a random sample of 4,227 life scientists over a 30-year period and conducted personal interviews with faculty scientists, found that 5.65 percent of the women in the sample held patents compared to 13 percent for men. Moreover, the male patent holders amassed a total of 1,286 patents, compared to only 92 patents secured by women scientists.

Researchers concluded that there was no evidence that women do less significant scientific research. Rather, they found that the most significant contributors to the large gender gap was their lack of exposure to the commercial sector and their lack of social networks, when compared to their male colleagues. The researchers also found concern among women scientists that pursuing commercial opportunities might hinder their university careers.

The researchers also noted that because scientists receive compensation when their patents are licensed from their university employers, the findings of the gender differences have implications for income levels. These differences may be amplified because patenting is often a precursor to faculty involvement in other compensated work with companies, such as appointments to scientific advisory boards (SAB) and consulting. In a related study, they found that of 771 SAB members in a large sample of young biomedical companies, only 6.5% were women.

On a positive note, the report did find that younger women scientists view patents as accomplishments and as a legitimate means to disseminate research. This view could narrow of the patenting gender gap over time, they said.

“Women faculty cite a disadvantage to their male colleagues due to the limited experience at the academic-industry boundary,” said Lesa Mitchell, vice president of Advancing Innovation at the Kauffman Foundation. “Lacking these connections, women find it time-consuming to gauge whether an idea is commercially relevant. Differences in the composition of their networks meant that the time cost of patenting was higher for women faculty.”

The researchers included Toby E. Stuart, Harvard Business School, Waverly W. Ding, Haas School of Business, University of California, Berkeley, and Fiona Murray, MIT Sloan School of Management, Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

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