Patenting and the Gender Gap: Should Women Be Encouraged to Patent More?
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The commercialization of academic science has come to be understood as economically desirable for institutions, individual researchers, and the public. Not surprisingly, commercial activity, particularly that which results from patenting, appears to be producing changes in the standards used to evaluate scientists’ performance and contributions. In this context, concerns about a gender gap in patenting activity have arisen and some have argued for the need to encourage women to seek more patents. They believe that because academic advancement is mainly dependent on productivity (Stuart and Ding in American Journal of Sociology 112:97–144, 2006; Azoulay et al. in Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization 63:599–623, 2007), differences in research output have the power to negatively impact women’s careers. Moreover, in the case of patenting activity, they claim that the gender gap also has the potential to negatively affect society. This is so because scientific and technological advancement and innovation play a crucial role in contemporary societies. Thus, women’s more limited involvement in the commercialization of science and technology can also be detrimental to innovation itself. Nevertheless, calls to encourage women to patent on grounds that such activity is likely to play a significant role in the betterment of both women’s careers and society seem to be based on two problematic assumptions: (1) that the methods to determine women’s productivity in patenting activities are an appropriate way to measure their research efforts and the impact of their work, and (2) that patenting, particularly in academia, benefits society. The purpose of this paper is to call into question these two assumptions.