Study Led by Scholar at the University of Georgia Finds Racial Gap in Patent Approvals

A new study by researchers at the University of Georgia and Oklahoma State University finds inventors from underrepresented groups are less likely than White inventors to have their patent applications granted by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

The researchers examined more than 4 million patent applications that were filed between 2000 and 2015. Since the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office doesn’t collect race and gender information, the researchers compared the applicants’ first, middle, and last names to other databases to define minority status. For instance, they looked at birth certificate records from the Social Security Administration to calculate the percentage likelihood that a first or middle name would be associated with a particular race or ethnic group. Applicants with at least a 90 percent likelihood of race identification were included in the analysis.

“Innovation is a driver of economic success. If everyone who has the capacity and will to be an inventor engages in that pursuit, then society benefits,” said lead author Mike Schuster, who is an assistant professor of legal studies at the Terry College of Business at the University of Georgia. “If we’re not engaging the entire population of the country in the innovative landscape, we’re leaving an awful lot on the table.”

The study,  “An Empirical Study of Patent Grant Rate as a Function of Race and Gender,” will be published in the American Business Law Journal.

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