A bipartisan, bicameral group of members of Congress introduced the Inventor Diversity for Economic Advancement (IDEA) Act to ensure that policy makers and researchers have the tools they need to study diversity among inventors holding U.S. patents.  Representative Nydia Velázquez (D-NY), Representative Steve Stivers (R-OH), Senator Thom Tillis (R-NC) and Senator Mazie Hirono (D-HI) introduced the IDEA Act on the heels of a U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) report released earlier this year finding that as of 2016 only 20 percent of U.S. patents list a woman as an inventor, and that only 12 percent of inventors seeking a patent were women.  A 2016 study by the Institute for Women’s policy research reached similar conclusions, finding that only 18 percent of U.S. patents list a woman inventor.

In addition to the USPTO and IWPR studies on gender disparities in patenting, other scholars have studied race and income gaps in patent rates.  For example, Professor Lisa Cook at Michigan State University has found that African Americans and Hispanic Americans hold roughly half the number of patents that white Americans do, and that African Americans and Hispanic Americans also apply for patents at significantly lower levels than white men. Separately, Alex Bell and his colleagues at Harvard, found that a person born into a family in the top one percent of income is ten times more likely to receive a patent than someone born into a family in the lower fifty percent of income. Even at the very top income levels, children born into the top one percent are 22 percent more likely to patent an invention in their lifetime than those born into the top five percent.

Because the USPTO does not collect data on the gender, race, income, and other characteristics of inventors, all research today relies on software algorithms or other survey data to estimate the demographics of inventors.  The IDEA Act would change this.  The bill would require the USPTO, for the first time, to collect demographic data—gender, race, ethnicity, national origin, sexual orientation, age, military or veterans status, disability, education level, and income level—from patent applicants on a voluntary basis. The USPTO would be required to keep this information separate from the patent application itself, and to make the data available publicly.  According to the sponsors, the bill will help close the patent gaps by helping the USPTO and the public to monitor diversity among inventors on an ongoing basis.

The IDEA Act is the latest in a series of congressional action to promote diversity in the patent system.  The Study of Underrepresented Classes Chasing Engineering and Science Success (SUCCESS) Act (Pub. L. No. 115-273) became law in October 2018.  That legislation requires the USPTO to work with the Small Business Administration to study the gender, race, and income gaps in patenting and report to Congress on its findings by October 31st of this year.  In furtherance of that report, the USPTO has held a series of hearings to take public testimony on this topic.

In addition, both the House and Senate Judiciary Committees held hearings this past spring on diversity in patenting, taking testimony from inventors, academics, and industry representatives on the extent of the disparities and best practices for closing the gaps.  The IDEA Act follows from these hearings, where witnesses testified that the difficulty of studying the diversity gaps in patent gaps makes it difficult to track progress.

 

 

Photo of Holly Fechner Holly Fechner

Holly Fechner advises clients on complex public policy matters that combine legal and political opportunities and risks. She leads teams that represent companies, entities, and organizations in significant policy and regulatory matters before Congress and the Executive Branch.

She is a co-chair of…

Holly Fechner advises clients on complex public policy matters that combine legal and political opportunities and risks. She leads teams that represent companies, entities, and organizations in significant policy and regulatory matters before Congress and the Executive Branch.

She is a co-chair of the Covington’s Technology Industry Group and a member of the Covington Political Action Committee board of directors.

Holly works with clients to:

  • Develop compelling public policy strategies
  • Research law and draft legislation and policy
  • Draft testimony, comments, fact sheets, letters and other documents
  • Advocate before Congress and the Executive Branch
  • Form and manage coalitions
  • Develop communications strategies

She is the Executive Director of Invent Together and a visiting lecturer at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. She serves on the board of directors of the American Constitution Society.

Holly served as Policy Director for Senator Edward M. Kennedy (D-MA) and Chief Labor and Pensions Counsel for the Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee.

She received The American Lawyer, “Dealmaker of the Year” award. in 2019. The Hill named her a “Top Lobbyist” from 2013 to the present, and she has been ranked by Chambers USA – America’s Leading Business Lawyers from 2012 to the present.

Photo of Matthew Shapanka Matthew Shapanka

Matthew Shapanka draws on more than 15 years of experience from Capitol Hill, private practice, state government, and political campaigns to counsel clients significant legislative, regulatory, and enforcement matters. He develops and executes complex, multifaceted public policy initiatives for clients seeking actions by…

Matthew Shapanka draws on more than 15 years of experience from Capitol Hill, private practice, state government, and political campaigns to counsel clients significant legislative, regulatory, and enforcement matters. He develops and executes complex, multifaceted public policy initiatives for clients seeking actions by Congress, state legislatures, and federal and state government agencies, many with significant legal and political opportunities and risks. Matt also leads the firm’s state policy practice, advising clients on complex multistate legislative and regulatory policy matters and managing state advocacy efforts.

Matt rejoined Covington after serving as Chief Counsel for the U.S. Senate Committee on Rules and Administration, where he advised Chairwoman Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) on all legal, policy, and oversight matters before the Committee, including federal election and campaign finance law, Federal Election Commission nominations, and oversight of legislative branch agencies, U.S. Capitol security, and Senate rules and regulations. Most significantly, Matt led the Committee’s staff work on the Electoral Count Reform Act – a landmark bipartisan law enacted in 2022 to update the procedures for certifying and counting votes in presidential elections —and the Committee’s joint (with the Homeland Security Committee) bipartisan investigation into the security planning and response to the January 6, 2021 attack on the Capitol.

Both in Congress and at Covington, Matt has prepared dozens of corporate and nonprofit executives, academics, government officials, and presidential nominees for testimony at congressional committee hearings and depositions. He is also an experienced legislative drafter who has composed dozens of bills introduced in Congress and state legislatures, including several that have been enacted into law across multiple policy areas.

In addition to his policy work, Matt advises and represents clients on the full range of political law compliance and enforcement matters involving federal election, campaign finance, lobbying, and government ethics laws, the Securities and Exchange Commission’s “Pay-to-Play” rule, and the election and political laws of states and municipalities across the country.

Before law school, Matt worked in the administration of former Governor Deval Patrick (D-MA) as a research analyst in the Massachusetts Recovery & Reinvestment Office, where he worked on policy, communications, and compliance matters for federal economic recovery funding awarded to the state. He has also worked for federal, state, and local political candidates in Massachusetts and New Hampshire.