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Report: The leaky pipeline at work: women heavily underrepresented as inventors in patents

5 September 2023


This VARIO report follows an earlier VARIO Advisory Report 30 'Strengthening Flanders' technology position with regard to patents'. In that Advisory Report - at the request of the Minister of Innovation - a refinement and addition to the existing VARIO core indicator 'number of patents applied for' was developed.

In this report we want to give additional attention to a gender component in those indicator(s) by looking at the number of female inventors and the so-called 'women inventor rate' (WIR).

The figures show a mixed message. The WIR of 0.2 for Flemish patents ranks in the top 3 in an international comparison, but for the business and higher education sub-analyses, Flanders performs rather average.

  • The share of Flemish female inventors in Flemish EPO patent applications increased from 0.14 in 2001 to 0.2 in 2017. Thus, among Flemish inventors in Flemish patents, only 1 in 5 is a woman.
    Flanders ranks well in international comparison. Flanders shares third place with Belgium and France in WIR for EPO applications (2017), leaving only the US and Spain ahead. The VARIO benchmark countries Netherlands, Sweden, Finland, Denmark all score lower.

  • The WIR among companies is clearly lower than among higher education institutions: for company patents from Flanders, only 1 inventor out of 6 is a woman (WIR 0.18). For patents applied for by higher education institutions, 1 in 3.4 inventors are women (WIR 0.29).
    For these sub-analyses, Flanders' ranking is much less favorable. Besides Spain and the U.S., Ireland, Belgium, France, the Netherlands and Great Britain are now ahead of us in business patents. We still rank before VARIO benchmark countries Sweden, Finland and Denmark. For patents applied for by higher education institutions, in addition to Spain and the USA, we are also behind Italy, Finland, Belgium, the Netherlands and Great Britain. Flanders also scores below the average of the EU member states here.