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Excerpted From: Jordana R. Goodman, Sy-stem-ic Bias: A Exploration of Gender and Race Representation on University Patents, 87 Brooklyn Law Review 853 (Spring, 2022) (244 Footnotes) (Full Document)


JordanaGoodmanWomen and people of color have been systemically excluded from participation in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields in the United States for centuries. This inability to participate, coupled with disparate abilities to own and control property, created STEM access gaps still evident in the United States today.

In the twenty-first century, many praised colleges and universities for closing admissions gaps relating to higher education. Colleges have implemented programs “to expand [their] reach to women and minority students.” These include programs to promote diverse applicants, create an inclusive campus climate, and support programs for incoming students to address remedial educational necessities. Despite this, the gap in STEM access for women and people of color persists.

Many have published studies on the STEM success gap between white men, women, and people of color, especially Black, Hispanic, and NativeAmerican people. Issues, including low graduation rates, poor access to equal early education, sexism, and systemic racism, all contribute to the lack of diversity in both academia and industry. Recent developments, like the COVID-19 pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement, have helped push these issues into the spotlight once again.

This article examines the STEM success gap through the lens of representation in patents and provides a new success metric for racial and gender equality: an equity metric. This is the first article to quantitatively estimate the patent gap between white, male inventors, inventors of color, and female inventors at Ivy League institutions, historically Black colleges or universities (HBCUs), research institutions, and other highly ranked universities in the United States (highly ranked schools, or HRS). This article compares representation on patents to representation at the university, excluding variable systemic issues regarding access to attorneys, patent funding, and other resources to pursue intellectual property protection.

Whether universities have a representative population of faculty and students equivalent to the racial and gender demographics present in the United States is immaterial to this article. Instead, this article presents a metric to determine whether groups of individuals invent and receive credit for their inventions through patents at the same rate as their peers at universities. The research herein demonstrates that Black, Hispanic, and female professors are not named as patent inventors at the same rate as their white and male peers, even when accounting for their underrepresentation on campus. Thus, the equity metric herein demonstrates that Black, Hispanic, and female professors are not succeeding in patent inventorship at the same rate as their white and male peers.

Patent inventorship is the recognition of an inventor's contribution to the wealth-building tool of a patent application. This article uses patent ownership as a proxy for a wealth and value metric, showing both that a person can produce value for their employer and that their contribution to that value is recognized in the form of patent inventorship. Closing current racial and gender patent inventorship gaps would increase aggregate economic output by trillions of dollars. According to the study herein, when accounting for representation on campus, women are up to 7 times less likely than their male peers to be named patent inventors. The patent gap is even more striking for Black and Hispanic inventors, with white full-time STEM professors over 18 times more likely than a Black peer and about 27 times more likely than a Hispanic peer to be a named patent inventor at top research universities in the United States. Moreover, although universities are admitting more people of color and women to undergraduate programs, in some cases, the newly hired professorship class is less diverse in 2015 than in 2000.

From this data, it is apparent that universities are either consciously or unconsciously engaging in what this article calls “restorative justice theater”--performatively pushing towards racial and gender equity but failing to quantitatively demonstrate that their efforts effectively repair previous harm. Universities should replace this theater with quantitative measures of patent inventorship--equity metrics--to demonstrate their commitment to racial and gender equity, to comply with antidiscrimination legislation, and to help other universities engage in effective programs with measurable results to close the racial and gender gaps in higher education.

To understand the implications of the racial and gender inventorship disparities pervasive across Ivy League institutions, research universities, and HBCUs in the United States, Part I shows how patent inventorship is an indicator of value recognition and how universities facilitate the patent process, highlighting the crucial roles of education, funding, and technology offices in mitigating gender and racedisparities. Part II explains the techniques used in this article to gather data and calculate the results of my research. Part III provides the results of my analysis, showing that full-time male STEM professors are between 2 and 5 times more likely to be patent inventors than their female peers at HBCUs, Ivy League Schools, research institutions, and schools outside of the HBCU system with the most tenured Black faculty. White full-time STEM professors were between 2 and 27 times more likely to be named patent inventors than their Black and Hispanic peers, depending on the university entity. Finally, Part IV explores potential reasons for these disparities, as well as legal implications for the systemic issues uncovered by this quantitative analysis, including violations of antidiscrimination laws.

[. . .]

Universities can no longer use restorative justice theater as a substitute for measurable, quantitative change. Black, Hispanic, and female faculty and students are not equitably represented on patents and simply hiring more faculty of color or more female faculty will not fully close the representation gap. Male full-time STEM professors are over 4 times more likely to be patent inventors than their female peers in research universities. White STEM professors are anywhere from 18 to 27 times more likely to be named on a patent than their Black and Hispanic peers at research universities. Although increasing Black representation helps to lessen the size of the race gap, the act of hiring or admitting more Black people did not come close to erasing the gap--even at HBCUs. Universities must take swift and efficient action to close these gaps and should quantify the effectiveness of those efforts to help others implement the best solutions.

Early education, industry hiring, and socioeconomic barriers all contribute to the gender and racial patent gaps evident in this study. This does not mean universities can shift blame onto these other contributing institutions. By quantifying the racial and gender patent gaps through a weighted comparison of university demographics and inventorship demographics on patents assigned to the university, the data demonstrate that universities do not create an environment where students and faculty inventors can expect to succeed on their merits alone. Universities have the means and political clout to close these gaps, if, and only if, they combine their resources with quantifiable data to show that their methods are effective. If universities refuse to voluntarily record and publish this data, either external social pressure or legislative action should be used to hold universities accountable for the unequal environment shrouded by promises of reform. With the current estimations of underrepresentation gaps, universities should use equity metrics to quantify the successes in their programs for practical academic equity.

Jordana Goodman is Visiting Clinical Assistant Professor at the BU/MIT Technology Law Clinic at Boston University School of Law. She can be contacted at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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