With only 9.6 percent female inventors, Liechtenstein is second to last in Europe, finds a European Patent Office (EPO) survey. Increasing female participation is a task for education policy and private companies.

Only Austria has fewer female inventors (8 percent) than Liechtenstein (9.6 percent), and Germany is third to last with 10 percent female inventors. The study compares the Women Inventor Rate (WIR) for EPO countries, which measures the percentage of women inventors among all inventors in patent applications in a given year.

Thus, Liechtenstein being a small country is not the reason for the low amount of female inventors. In fact, Latvia, a country with a population of 1.9 million, tops the list with a WIR of over 30 percent.

The analysis focuses on all European patent applications submitted between 1978 and 2019, with occasional extensions until 2021, where possible. Overall, the share of women inventors in the EU has increased steadily over time but is still below parity with that of inventors who are men. The women inventor rate (WIR) across all surveyed countries increased from around 2% in the late 1970s to more than 13% in 2019.

Far behind the international competition

A low WIR is a problem as it means Liechtenstein leaves a considerable part of its innovation potential unused, with women not adequately involved in research and development. The Gender Gap calls for greater promotion and inclusion of women in innovation activity. Other countries are much further ahead, so Liechtenstein must catch up.

The European leader in the share of female inventors is Latvia, with 30.6 percent, ahead of Portugal (26.8) and Croatia (25.8). These countries have rather low patent application figures overall. But even in countries with higher filing rates, such as France (16.6), Great Britain (12.4), and Sweden (12.2), a higher percentage of women are involved in innovation activity compared to Liechtenstein.

Liechtenstein is far below the European average of 13.2 percent and far behind the averages in other regions. Countries such as China or South Korea have a much higher proportion of female patent applicants. According to the EPO, the share of female inventors is 28.3 percent in South Korea, 26.8 percent in China, and 15 percent in the USA.

A public and private sector challenge

The differences are partly due to the respective technological focus of patent activities. The EPO records the highest share of female inventors in the chemical sector (22.4 percent) and the lowest in mechanical engineering (5.2 percent). Thus, one reason for the lower participation rate is Liechtenstein not being well-represented in the sectors with higher WIRs.

The EPO also analyzed the patent applications according to whether they came from universities and public research institutions or private companies. Here it was noticeable that the proportion of female inventors in universities and research institutions (19.4 percent) is significantly higher than that in companies (10.0 percent) across all EPO countries.

Thus, increasing the WIR is a task for education policy and Liechtenstein’s companies. The framework conditions for innovation and creativity must be more strongly adapted to the needs of women – especially concerning the flexibility of working models.

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