South Korea and China set the global standard for gender equality in patent filing

IAM hosted IPBC Korea in Seoul yesterday, and the event coincided with World Intellectual Property Day, the theme of which this year was “Powering change: women in innovation and creativity”. As it turns out that was a very appropriate (if coincidental) overlap. According to statistics published by WIPO yesterday, South Korea leads the world in terms of women’s inventorship.

WIPO broke down PCT patent filings for the year 2017 according to how many applications listed at least one female inventor. There was just one country from which that figure was above 50% – South Korea. China, however, is not far off the pace. The country places a huge emphasis on its international patent filings as a key system-wide metric, and in 2017, 48% of its PCT applications named a woman inventor. It is a long way down after that – no other country is close to parity. Belgium is next, sitting on 36%.

Fifteen individual corporates had a greater than 50% share of inventions attributable to a woman inventor, and of these, more than half came from South Korea or China. LG Chem led all corporates with a figure of 72.5%, and was joined by Samsung Electronics (56%) and LG Electronics (54%) on the list. In China, DJI, BOE, Huawei, ZTE and Tencent all check in above 50%.

Filings from academic institutions tell a similar story. ETRI, Korea’s top public-sector research institution, leads all others with 83% of PCT applications naming a woman. The next five schools are all Chinese universities. In all, nine of the top ten and 13 of the top 15 universities are Korean or Chinese.

The news is not all good from this part of the world. Australia and Japan in particular lag far behind the global average of 31% female inventorship, sitting at 22% and 20% respectively. India is more or less near the average. There are no figures from Taiwan, which is not a WIPO member.   

The inventorship figures, of course, give us insight into corporate and university R&D departments. But what of the IP management function? At the very top levels of those departments, gender parity is still a distant objective, based on my own personal observations.

It has to be said that Greater China is perhaps somewhat ahead of the curve in this regard. Executives like Laura Quatela of Lenovo and Billie Chen of TSMC are running very large leading IP functions. Alibaba’s Amy Xu, Alice Wang of drone-maker DJI and Kate Shang at Acer all head stellar corporate patent teams as well. Dong Mingzhu, CEO of appliance maker Gree, is so outspoken about IP issues that she has been named among China’s top ten IP personalities. And in a country where the highest echelons of political power are almost exclusively male-dominated, Supreme People’s Court Justice Madame Tao Kaiyuan is China’s most respected policy voice when it comes to judicial IP matters.

Of course, we should remember that the application is not even half the battle for prospective patent owners. As IAM reported last week, a recent study showed that in the United States, women have much greater difficulty than men in obtaining and maintaining grants. Applications naming female inventors were not only more likely to be rejected by examiners, they also had fewer claims allowed on average. Even when patent rights issue, they are less likely to be cited and more likely to be abandoned by the assignee, researchers found.

Even the jurisdictions and organisations that lead the way in filing parity still have plenty of work to do when it comes to making the patent world more equal. But this report by WIPO gives us an opportunity to celebrate countries and companies that many in the West may not have realised are thoroughly outperforming them in this crucial area.

PCT filers with more than half of 2017 applications naming at least one woman inventor




LG Chem, Ltd.

South Korea


F. Hoffmann-La Roche AG






Dow Global Technologies Inc.

United States


Henkel Kommanditgesellschaft Auf Aktien



Procter & Gamble Company

United States


Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd.

South Korea


BOE Technology Group Co.,Ltd



Nestec S.A.



LG Electronics Inc.

South Korea


SZ DJI Technology Co., Ltd






Huawei Technologies Co., Ltd.



ZTE Corporation



Tencent Technology (Shenzhen) Company Limited



Source: WIPO

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