TAKEAWAY: The USPTO may soon be required to collect and publish demographic information provided by inventors on a voluntary basis. Improved data collection efforts could shed light on the impact of initiatives aimed towards increasing diversity in inventorship and innovation.

The Senate recently passed the U.S. Innovation and Competition Act (USICA, text available here), which now heads to the House of Representatives for debate. Of note, the Inventor Diversity for Economic Advancement (IDEA) Act was included as an amendment to the USICA.

The IDEA Act was first introduced in 2019. As part of the USICA, it would require the USPTO to ask for and collect—on a voluntary basis—inventor demographic information, including at least gender, race, and military or veteran status. The USPTO would be required to publish the statistics on an annual basis, and no later than January 31st of each year. Importantly, inventors’ demographic information would be kept confidential and separate from the respective applications, and would not be made available to patent examiners or considered during examination for privacy concerns and to avoid issues of implicit or unconscious bias.

Proponents of the bill say the demographic information would be helpful for studying the diversity of inventors seeking and holding U.S. patents. Numerous studies by the USPTO and others have shown that women and minorities are under-represented in patent filings. For example, a recent USPTO report from February 2019 found that only 21% of patents as of 2016 included at least one female inventor. Another study in 2013 performed by Professor Lisa Cook of Michigan State University provides evidence showing that less than 0.05% of over two million patents granted between 1870 and 1940 were to African American inventors. If the bill is passed and a majority of inventors agree to participate, the collection and publication of demographic information could assist in measuring progress and the impact of diversity-oriented programs on the patent system.

The USICA addresses a host of issues concerning economic and technological competition, including artificial intelligence, semiconductor production, and space exploration. The House additionally passed two complementary bills related to domestic R&D funding, the National Science Foundation (NJSF) for the Future Act and the Department of Energy Science for the Future Act. As next steps, it is expected that the House and Senate will collaborate to combine the bills into one measure that would then need to be passed by both houses of Congress.