The gender inventorship gap and emergence of FemTech

Clare Collins

The gender inventorship gap and emergence of Fem Tech

A 2022 study conducted by the European Patent Office found that fewer than one in seven inventors are women. In fact, women represent just 13.2% of European inventors named on patent applications and this trend can be seen worldwide, with South Korea topping the table at 26.8%. While (sadly) this isn’t a huge surprise, the simple fact is that a greater proportion of men study and pursue careers in science and technology, where innovation leads to patent applications. However, the fast-growing FemTech sector may help to level the playing field.

Innovating in women’s health

Innovation often arises from personal interest and when it comes to women’s health, female inventors have the upper hand. Yet historically, many inventions in this field have been made by men.

Take, for example, the speculum — a device that all women are familiar with. Surprisingly, illustrations of specula excavated from Pompeii bear remarkable resemblance to the devices that are used today. Various versions of the specula were developed in the 18th and early 19th centuries, but the invention of the ‘modern’ speculum is attributed to US surgeon James Marion Sims in 1845.

Sims — sometimes referred to as ‘the father of gynaecology’ — developed his tools and furthered his knowledge by performing surgeries on enslaved women without anaesthetics (even as anaesthesia became more widely available). For most, an encounter with a speculum may cause mild discomfort. For others, the experience can be extremely painful and traumatising. It seems remarkable that the speculum designed under circumstances considered horrific by today’s standards has remained largely unchanged since 1845.

This is but one example of the ‘gender technology gap’a possible consequence of low female inventor numbers. Other examples include car safety technology, where male dummies are often used in testing, resulting in cars being safer for men than they are for women.

Emergence of FemTech

The Danish inventor and midwife Malene Hegenberger has only recently redesigned the speculum for the purpose of performing postpartum suturing after years of working as a midwife and struggling with the traditional instrument. The improved design provides midwives with a clear view of tears and enables them to use both hands for suturing — something that was previously impossible. As a result, the procedures are shorter and patients suffer less discomfort.

This goes to show the impact that female inventors can have. In the late 1970s, female inventor numbers were closer to 2%. Encouraging and supporting more women into science, engineering and other technological roles is a key step to seeing more women named as inventors on patent applications.

Interestingly, Engineering UK found that the increase in women working in engineering continued to rise even when the total number of people working in engineering fell during 2020 and 2021 (as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic).

Another recent EPO study indicates that the number of patent applications being filed continues to grow. Interestingly, it also states that in 2022 one in five patent applications came from an individual inventor or a small- to medium-sized enterprise (one with fewer than 250 employees), which demonstrates the importance of patents to all types of business — not just the biggest companies.

What the future holds for female inventors

As further efforts are underway to improve the underrepresentation of women, particularly at senior and decision-making levels, as well as tackling changes in attitudes, overcoming biases and challenging stereotypes, it’s a sure bet that we are set to see ever more women being given the opportunity to invent.

The FemTech sector is expected to grow to almost $69 billion globally by 2027 — if you’re innovating to improve women’s health, drop me a line at clare.collins@murgitroyd.com for a free initial chat about your technology.


IAM300 LOGO RGB COL WEBIAM1000 LOGO RGB COL WEBFT LOGO RGB COL WEBWWL LOGO RGB COL WEBIP STARS LOGO RGB COL WEBWTR LOGO RGB COLTHE LEGAL 500 LOGOTYPE RGBLogo 2024 Most Recommended Intl IP Agencies Service 1Decideurs Magazine Full RGBWIPR 2024 Diversity Woman Logo Colour RGBIP INCLUSIVE WEBAdapt Legal Logo RGBEPPP Logo web sizeLsa logo 2024 CMYK