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IDEA Act Would Close Patent Rights Gap for Women, Minorities

July 25, 2019, 6:17 PM HST
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Sen. Mazie Hirono, May 30, 2019. PC: Office of Mazie Hirono

US Sen. Mazie K. Hirono (D-Hawai‘i) was part of a group of federal legislators who on Thursday, July 25, 2019, introduced bicameral, bipartisan legislation—the Inventor Diversity for Economic Advancement Act, or IDEA Act, of 2019.

The IDEA Act is designed to help close the gap faced by women, minorities and others when it comes to procuring patent rights in the United States, according to a press release from Sen. Hirono’s office.

“The United States has long been a global leader in terms of technological innovation,” Sen. Hirono said. “But if we expect to continue that leadership in the future, we need to harness the potential of all Americans. I have long championed increased opportunities for women and other underrepresented groups in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields. Making sure those same people have equal access to the patent system is not just the right thing to do, but it will also grow our economy and ensure American leadership in science and technology for decades to come.”

Studies show that women, minorities and economically disadvantaged individuals apply for and obtain patents at significantly lower rates than their male, white and wealthier counterparts, according to the release.

Only 21% of US patents list at least one woman as an inventor. African American and Hispanic college graduates apply for patents at approximately half the rate of their white counterparts. Additionally, children born to families with incomes below the US median income receive patents at less than 10% of the rate of children born to families in the top 1%.

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The IDEA Act would close these gaps by directing the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) to collect demographic data—including gender, race, military or veteran status, and income level, among others—from patent applicants on a voluntary basis, the release stated. It further requires the USPTO to issue reports on the data collected and make the data available to the public, thereby allowing outside researchers to conduct their own analyses and offer insights into the various patent gaps in our society.

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The full text of the IDEA Act is available here. A one-page summary of the bill is available here.

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