Despite the soaring number of patents taken out by university science departments in recent years, women scientists are far less likely to secure them than their male colleagues because of a lack of commercial contacts, according to a new study.
The report, released Friday by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, analyzed a random sample of 4,227 life scientists over a 30-year period. It found that men took out patents at more than twice the rate of women, despite producing equally significant research.
Less than 6% of the women in the sample group held patents, compared to 13% among the men, according to the study, which was conducted by researchers at Harvard University, the MIT Sloan School of Management, and the Haas Scholl of Business.
Among those in the group who held patents -- which included intellectual property protections for medical treatments, DNA encoding techniques, and artificial proteins, among other innovations -- 1,286 were acquired by men and only 92 by women, the study found.
That gender gap was much larger than other typical measures of equality in academic science departments, such as salary, the publication rates for research papers, and promotions, according Toby Stuart, a Harvard Business School researcher who co-wrote the study.
It may also have a direct impact on the level of scientific innovation coming out of the nation's universities, Stuart said.
"It means a lot of science being done is not going through commercial channels," he said.
One problem, Stuart said, is that women faculty are unlikely to share the strong industry networks of their male colleagues. As a result, they have greater difficulty in gauging the commercial appeal of an idea or innovation.
The study also found that women scientists were more concerned with the impact on their university careers of pursing commercial interests.
On the positive side, the study found that younger women scientists, more so than their older female colleagues, viewed patents as a legitimate way of disseminating research.
Stuart said that could narrow the gap in the years ahead.