Increasing the Representation of Women in the Patent System: Evidence from a Randomized Control Trial

Women are underrepresented as inventors on U.S. patents (Toole et al. 2019, Toole et al. 2020). Although the gender gap is closing over time, it is not closing quickly. This suggests that there is a role for policy to help reduce invention and commercialization barriers for women. However, the potential effectiveness of policies to address this issue are unclear, primarily because the underlying causes of the gender gap are complex and not well understood. Recent research has begun to cast light on this issue (Whittington 2005; Ding et al. 2006; Murray and Graham 2007; Colyvas et al. 2012; Hunt et al. 2013; Meng 2018). There is some evidence that women are less successful during patent prosecution at the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), all else equal (including the quality of the patent application). Aneja et al. (2021) find that women are much more likely to abandon patent applications after a first rejection at the USPTO than men. Further, this effect is greater for women applicants that do not have institutional support. This result suggests that women could disproportionately benefit from increased assistance at the USPTO, and that programs emphasizing assistance could increase the representation of women in the patent system. In response to the America Invents Act and following presidential executive order, the USPTO established the Pro Se Pilot program in 2014 to better assist inventors that file patent applications without legal representation. The program consisted of a specialized group of 15 patent examiners (called an art unit) and patent applications were randomly assigned to the treatment (the Pilot art unit) and the control (regular patent examination). Our paper uses the Pro Se Pilot randomized control trial to explore whether increased patenting assistance is an effective mechanism to help close the gender patenting gap.