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Gender differences and patenting in Latin America: understanding female participation in commercial science


Although female involvement in science and technology has been growing over recent years, it is still low. Latin America is no exception. Even though the Latin American region has achieved significant accomplishments in terms of gender parity, women’s participation in patenting activities remains small compared to that of men. The aim of this study is to explain the rate of female participation in patenting activity. We gather information from 3081 US patents granted to assignees in Latin America. The countries of our sample are Argentina, Brazil, Costa Rica, Chile, Cuba, Colombia, México, Panamá, Peru, Uruguay, and Venezuela. The study period is from 1976 to 2011. This study reveals that the number of US patent granted with female involvement to the countries in our sample is only 22%. We use a probit model to explain women participation in patenting. Results suggest that external and internal collaboration, the institutional sector of the grantee, and innovations related to the life sciences have an effect on the probability of having female participation in patenting in Latin America. Our findings also show that the fertility rate and the human development of countries impact women participation in patenting in the Latin American region.

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Fig. 1

Source: Own elaboration based on the USPTO database

Fig. 2


  1. We use the patent document to check whether an invention is shared by different organizations and take that as an external linkage, a proxy for external collaboration. There are different types of external linkages, and not all involve sharing patent rights; however, because there are no available databases on alliances in Latin America, we decided to use the patent document even though it has limitations for measuring collaboration.

  2. The top five patenting firms in our sample are Intevep, Petrobras, Empresa Brasileira de Compressores S.A, Hylsa S.A. de C.V., Vitro Monterrey. These companies are either monopolies or oligopolies, and are natural resource-based companies.

  3. Jung and Ejermo (2014) use technology fields to study demographic patenting trends by gender and technology.

  4. There exist different abbreviations for companies registered by civil law in Latin America. The most common of these abbreviations are S.A (65.4% of our total sample of firms is registered under this abbreviation), Ltd. (13.2% of the total sample of firms), and Ltda. (9.6% of the total sample of firms). We also look at other abbreviations even though they are not common: S. de R.L., S.A de C.V, and C.A, among others.

  5. Leydesdorff and Meyer (2010) have pointed out that some universities have been named “institutes,” and that this may lead to an underestimation of the number of universities. We took care of it and found that 18.8% of the US utility patents granted to Latin American universities are under the assignee name “Instituto.” The most common cases are the patents granted to Instituto Politécnico Nacional (Mexico).

  6. We searched for their corresponding Spanish or Portuguese words in the assignee name and found that most patents in this category were granted to “Centros de Investigación/Research Centers” (110 patents), followed by “Institutos/Institutes” (94 patents) and “Fundacao/Fundación/Foundations” (54 patents). We also noticed that there exist a few cases in which a patent is granted to governmental entities such as national councils of science or ministries. These last cases represent around 0.6% of our sample, and the assignee countries were Argentina, Mexico, Chile, Colombia, and Venezuela. We also take into account these cases in our study.

  7. The section category of the IPC represents the whole body of knowledge that may be regarded as proper to the field of patents for invention; the subsections are informative headings in between sections; the class category is the second hierarchical level of the classification; and the subclass category represents the third hierarchical level of the classification, World Intellectual Property Organization (2019).

  8. As previously mentioned, when a patent holder is an individual also listed as an inventor, we take that as a non-affiliated inventor.

  9. It is possible that two or more organizations share patent rights and only one individual is listed as an inventor. We also take that as an external collaboration because even though there is only one inventor, organizations are allies to carry out an invention. It is also likely that organization(s) and individual(s) are listed as assignees, this is a very unusual case, only 11 patents out of 3081 show that feature (0.3% of the patents in our sample). In this case, we check whether there were one or more individuals listed as inventors and/or the individual(s) were affiliated to the patent holder. Upon that screening, we classify the 11 patents accordingly.

  10. We follow Meng (2016) and consider biotechnology and nanotechnology as technological fields related to the life sciences. However, when searching for nanotechnology patents, there are no nano US patents granted to our sample of Latin America in our study period.

  11. We use 100 patents as a target because that indicates there is at least an effort to receive two patents on an average per year by a country.

  12. When interpreting our estimates of the average of independent dummy variables, we paid careful attention to the meaning of them.


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Correspondence to Domingo Sifontes.

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A version of this paper was presented at the “1st Conference of the Latin American Network on Economics of Innovation and Entrepreneurship” as part of Domingo Sifontes’s doctoral dissertation. Domingo Sifontes thanks Roberto Alvarez and participants in the seminar for comments. We thank two anonymous referees for comments and suggestions. Both authors thank Angélica Rodríguez, Héctor Monasterios, Yuneigla Gomez, Jesús Obelmejias, Armando Romero, and Octavio Gonzalez for data collection.

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Sifontes, D., Morales, R. Gender differences and patenting in Latin America: understanding female participation in commercial science. Scientometrics 124, 2009–2036 (2020).

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