Diversity in innovation, invention and patenting has emerged as a major area of policy and corporate focus. A new initiative and a major online event are designed to keep the momentum going
More than 25 major, innovation-led businesses have signed up to the US IP Alliance’s Diversity Pledge ahead of the organisation’s inaugural Increasing Diversity in Innovation virtual conference, being held in conjunction with UC Berkley and taking place next week from 26 to 29 July.
Adobe, AT&T, Facebook, HP, Lenovo, Microsoft, P&G, Pure Storage, Seagate Technology and Uber are among the companies that have made the pledge. This commits them to implementing best practices to increase inventor diversity within their operations and to share relevant data which tracks the outcomes of their efforts (a fuller list of the pledge companies can be found at the end of this article).
Increasing Diversity in Innovation will focus on providing best practices, data and research from academia, corporations and non-profits designed to help companies better integrate and incorporate minority inventors into their innovation ecosystems, leading to demonstrable and measurable results.
A growing amount of research has shown how women and members of minority groups are currently largely absent from the innovation process.
The USPTO’s Progress and Potential report found that women’s share of patenting activity in the US had only risen from around 5% to 12.1% in the 40 years up to 2016; and that since then had stalled even further, climbing to just 12.8% by 2019. Meanwhile, work done by Mike Pellegrino and published recently by IAM showed that even at companies with strong commitments to diversity, such as Apple, Google and Facebook, the gap between the sexes when it comes to invention is marked.
USPTO Progress and Potential report, 2019
Suzanne Harrison, co-founder and principle at Percipience and CEO of the Gathering, and Facebook VP of IP, Allen Lo, head up the USIPA’s diversity and inclusion initiative. They recently wrote an article for IAM in which they observed that the collection of data is crucial to tackling current imbalances in invention, innovation and patenting processes:
The bottom line is that no company has solved this issue yet, and we need to encourage and reward companies for being transparent and open about their diversity efforts. If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it is especially true in this instance. Companies need to establish a baseline dataset and then work to improve from there.
Reacting to the pledges so far received, the pair say they hope many more companies will get involved to help develop actionable and measurable changes designed to increase diversity in innovation. “It is gratifying to see so many IP leaders and organisations join together to promote diversity of thought, experiences and ideas,” says Harrison.
“This industry thrives when the range of inventors contributing are as diverse as the people who use our products. The conference and pledge will bring together companies to share insights and ideas on how to support under-represented inventors and create more equitable opportunities for them,” Lo states.
It’s not just that improving access to innovation and invention opportunities is a matter of equity, it is also a case of doing it because it will deliver better results. Making use of the potential in 100% of the population, as opposed to a segment of it, will turbocharge research and product development with all the benefits that can deliver. "USIPA and UC Berkeley working together allows us to educate and create diverse thinking employees who are then better utilised by companies to create increased profitability and a stronger American economy,” Harrison concludes.
Selection of companies that have signed up to the USIPA Diversity Pledge
AT&T, Chr Hansen A/S, DropBox, F5 Networks, Facebook, HP, HPE, Lenovo, LinkedIn, Lumentum, Microsoft, NetApp, Nielsen, Palo Alto Networks, PayPal, P&G, Pure Storage, SAP, Seagate Technology,, Twilio, Uber, Viavi Solutions, View, Western Digital