James Watt invented steam engines, Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone, the Wright Brothers invented airplane; whereas Thomas Edison is attributed with the invention of electric light bulb to the phonograph to the motion picture camera (he filed more than 1000 patents for his inventions). We all know these scientists who have made our lives better and easier. But if it is ask you to name a female inventor, most of us will take a lot of time to name even one. Some of us may even think that we don’t have any female inventors; but that is completely untrue!


We have Margaret E. Knight who was most well-known for a machine she built which folded and glued paper to create a flat-bottomed paper bag. The product was popular-so popular, in fact that a man stole the idea to patent himself. When Knight too him to court for patent infringement, he argued that a woman “could not possibly understand the mechanical complexities.” Knight won her case by providing proof that she had designed the machine, earning herself the right to patent her machine. Maria Beasley was another dedicated entrepreneur, she successfully marketed at least 15 inventions, including a foot warmer, an anti-derailment device for trains, and a barrel-making machine that resulted in an estimated income of $20,000 a year at a time when most working women earned $3 a day. But in 1880 US Census, Beasley was listed as an ‘unemployed housewife.’ There are many other women inventors whose contribution to the human race is of tremendous importance but it is hardly recognized.


According to an analysis by Institute for women’s policy research only 8% patents have women as primary inventors; at this rate, it is expected that women will be equal to their male counterparts only in the year 2092.

Database and methodology used-

Although patent application systems across the world mandate that each inventor be named in the patent application, there is no requirement of identifying the gender of these inventors. This makes it extremely difficult to come up with exact breakdown of inventors on the basis of gender. The existing literature in the area has mostly relied on secondary sources, that too retroactively, and has mostly confined themselves to specific countries or geographical regions. These two studies differ in their scope in it that they have taken a global approach and sought to apply a more rigorous methodology while arriving at their findings.

STUDY 1 titled ‘Gender profiles in worldwide patenting’, complied its figures on the basis of the European Patent Office’s worldwide patent statistical database (PATSTAT).

STUDY 2  titled ‘Identifying the gender of PCT inventors’, on the other hand, relied on the patent co-operation treaty (PCT) database and accomplished gender attribution by developing its own world gender-name dictionary (‘WGND’). Thus, both the studies used secondary sources to come up with their findings and are vulnerable to at least a few false positives and negatives while attributing gender.

 Key findings-

Although both the studies have a number of unique features in terms of the methodology adopted and the conclusions arrived at, the substantial portions of them mirrored each other. The key findings are summarizing here in the form of a table so that the readers can better appreciate the common findings arrived at by both these studies.