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Innovative potential remains untapped - only six per cent female inventors

Women greatly underrepresented in terms of patent applications in Germany – DPMA President: There is a need to better reconcile work and family life

Press release of 21 December 2018

Munich. Germany does not sufficiently foster female inventive talent. Out of twenty German inventors only one is female. A statistical analysis carried out by the German Patent and Trade Mark Office (DPMA) has shown that women accounted for 6.3% of the inventors named in patent applications for the German market published last year. In the classical engineering fields, the rate was even much lower; the overall rate was raised by the significantly higher proportion of women in science. It is noticeable that the southern German Länder, which are top of the DPMA list in terms of the total number of patent applications, only occupy some of the bottom places of the ranking for the proportion of female inventorship. "Women have the same skills as men. However, with only a good six per cent female inventors, we are not fully tapping our country’s innovative potential," said DPMA President Cornelia Rudloff-Schäffer and added: "We have to make greater use of the skills and experience of women if we want to maintain our leading position in research and development".

Overview Year 2017 - Inventors based in Germany[1]
Number  Applications (national + PCT national phase)  First applications published with effect in Germany (DPMA + EPO) 
Nominations of inventors  104.172  95.714 
- with female first name  5.978  5.888 
- with male first name  96.738  88.305 
- not allocable  1.456  1.521 
Allocation rate  98,6%  98,4% 
Share of female inventors in assignable inventor designations   5,8%  6,3% 
[1]The assignment to a gender was made on the basis of the "Gender Name Dictionary" of WIPO, available under: https://www.wipo.int/publications/en/details.jsp?id=4125 

The analysis on the proportion of female inventors was carried out by the DPMA for the first time. It analysed the published patent applications of people residing in Germany which were filed at the German Patent and Trade Mark Office and the European Patent Office in 2017. The name of the inventor is normally indicated in addition to the name of the applicant. Among the inventors indicated, the proportion of women has been determined. An analysis of the development since 2008 shows a slight upward trend in the proportion of female inventors. In 2008, the proportion of women among inventors in Germany was only 5%.

Proportion of female inventors - First applications published 2008 to 2017 - Germany
Year of publication  Proportion of female inventors 
2008  5,0% 
2009  5,1% 
2010  5,3% 
2011  5,2% 
2012  5,5% 
2013  5,7% 
2014  5,7% 
2015  6,2% 
2016  6,1% 
2017  6,3% 

The highest proportion of female inventors is seen in the sector of chemistry (15.9%), followed by the sector of technical instruments with 6.3%. The proportion of female inventors is only 4.7% in electrical engineering and even lower in mechanical engineering with 3.9%.

Proportion of female inventors - Published applications by sector[1] (2015 - 2017) - Germany
Sector  Percentage of female inventors  Proportion of named inventors in total 
Electrical Engineering  4,7%  19,7% 
Instruments  6,3%  15,0% 
Chemical industry  15,9%  13,0% 
Mechanical engineering  3,9%  45,4% 
Other   7,2%  7,0% 
Total  6,2%  100,0% 
[1] according to WIPO IPC technology concordance table, available under: https://www.wipo.int/ipstats/en/index.html#aaresources 

An even more precise picture emerges when one looks at the individual fields of technology. While the proportion of female inventors in chemistry and biotechnology is up to one third, it is especially far below average in communications technology and mechanical engineering.

Proportion of female inventors - Published applications sorted by field of technology [1] (2015 - 2017) - Germany
Field of technology  Proportion of female inventors  Share of named inventors in totalt 
1) Electrical machinery and apparatus, energy  4,3%  10,1% 
2) Audio-visual technology  4,4%  1,5% 
3) Telecommunications technology  3,7%  1,0% 
4) Digital communications technology  4,0%  1,9% 
5) Basic procedures in communication technology  2,4%  0,5% 
6) Computer technology  5,4%  2,1% 
7) Data processing procedures for business purposes  6,8%  0,3% 
8) Semiconductors  7,5%  2,2% 
9) Optics  6,0%  1,6% 
10) Measurement   4,4%  7,1% 
11) Analysis of biological substances  22,8%  0,3% 
12) Control and regulation technology  5,6%  2,5% 
13) Medical technology  9,5%  3,5% 
14) Organic Fine Chemicals  32,4%  1,7% 
15) Biotechnology  28,0%  0,8% 
16) Pharmaceuticals  21,9%  0,4% 
17) Macromolecular Chemistry, Polymers  21,1%  0,8% 
18) Food chemistry  17,8%  0,2% 
19) Basic Chemicals  23,0%  1,6% 
20) Materials, metallurgy  9,3%  2,0% 
21) Surface Technology, Coatings  8,7%  1,4% 
22) Microtechnology and nanotechnology  9,1%  0,3% 
23) Chemical Process Engineering  7,9%  1,9% 
24) Environmental Technology  6,0%  1,7% 
25) Conveyor technology  3,6%  3,2% 
26) Machine tools  3,0%  3,9% 
27) Engines, pumps, turbines   3,8%  7,8% 
28) Textile and paper machinery  7,2%  1,5% 
29) Other special machinery  4,6%  3,5% 
30) Thermal processes and equipment  6,2%  2,0% 
31) Machine elements  2,9%  9,3% 
32) Transportation  4,0%  14,1% 
33) Furniture, games  8,4%  1,7% 
34) Other consumer goods  10,3%  2,4% 
35) Building industry  3,9%  2,9% 
Total  6,2%  100,0% 
[1] according to WIPO IPC technology Concordance table, available at https://www.wipo.int/ipstats/en/index.html#aaresources 

The ranking of German Länder is led by Hamburg, which has the highest proportion of female inventors (16.3%), followed by Schleswig-Holstein (10.6%) and Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania (10.4%) while Bavaria (5.3%), Bremen and Brandenburg (4.8% each) as well as Baden-Württemberg (4.5%) have some of the lowest.

The share of female inventors - Published applications by German Länder(2015 - 2017)
German Länder  Female Inventors proportion  Proportion of named inventors in total 
Baden-Württemberg  4,5%  30,9% 
Bavaria  5,3%  28,0% 
Berlin  9,4%  2,5% 
Brandenburg  4,8%  1,0% 
Bremen  4,8%  0,2% 
Hamburg  16,3%  1,7% 
Hesse  7,1%  4,9% 
Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania  10,4%  0,4% 
Lower Saxony  6,8%  6,4% 
North Rhine-Westfalia  8,5%  14,8% 
Rhineland-Palatinate  6,0%  2,5% 
Saarland   6,8%  0,5% 
Saxony   6,6%  2,9% 
Saxony-Anhalt  9,3%  0,5% 
Schleswig-Holstein  10,6%  1,5% 
Thuringia  6,3%  1,3% 
Unallocated  9,3%  0,1% 
Total  6,2%  100,0% 

Nevertheless, what is significant is that the proportion of women involved in technical innovations is apparently declining: For 15 years, female graduates in engineering and in science in Germany have accounted for more than 20% (2017: 23.1%) and more than 40% (2017: 48.5%), respectively, and even among staff of research and development departments 19% are women. However, as regards patent applications, a mere 6.3% of inventors were women in 2017. "The figures suggest that the choice of the field of study does by no means definitely set the course," said DPMA President Rudloff-Schäffer and added: "On the way from university to marketable invention, a substantial part of female innovative potential remains untapped."

The DPMA President calls for further efforts to attract more women into what is referred to as STEM careers (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics): "Studies show that campaigns to activate girls and women can be successful. This is true for schools, universities, research institutes – and of course also for companies." She added that attracting women into research and development was also a challenge in the working world. Top achievements required top performance. In her view this would only become possible if the framework conditions for innovation and creativity were tailored to the needs of women throughout their working lives, particularly, with regard to reconciling private and professional life. This required flexibility in working hours and locations as well as a reliable network of support to meet family challenges – for women as well as for men.

At the beginning of 2018, the DPMA joined the national initiative for women in STEM professions (English: STEM, German: MINT) called "Komm, mach MINT" (Come join STEM). Furthermore, enabling staff to achieve a good work life balance is a key priority for the senior management of the federal authority. Currently, over a third of the 2,600 staff partly work from home (home office). In addition, there are numerous part-time schemes tailored to suit their individual situations, for men as well as women – right up to senior management positions at the level of heads of divisions.

The German Patent and Trade Mark Office

Inventiveness and creativity need effective protection. The DPMA is the German centre of expertise for all intellectual property rights – for patents, utility models, trade marks and registered designs. As the largest national patent office in Europe and the fifth largest national patent office in the world, it is committed to Germany’s future as a country of inventors in a globalised economy. Its roughly 2,600 staff based at three locations – Munich, Jena and Berlin – are service providers for inventors and companies. They implement the innovation strategies of the Federal administration and develop national, European and international IP systems further.

Last updated: 22/01/19 

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