The success or failure of a patent application depends on a number of factors. Of course, an invention must be directed at patent-eligible subject matter. It must also be useful, novel, non-obvious, and appropriately described. Non-legal factors, such as art unit and examiner, can also affect the outcome. Then there are strategic decisions, like whether to pursue an RCE or appeal. We have data on all of these factors. It’s what we do. Nonetheless, we are constantly looking for new variables to analyze. That’s why, when asked if gender potentially influences patent prosecution, we wasted no time getting started.
We focused our study on two metrics – examiner allowance rate and examiner speed. Our analysis focused on revealing interesting statistical trends, and not on unveiling any perceived gender biases. As such, we do not claim that the results have any meaning beyond what our methodology and analysis showed.
To determine gender, we used the Social Security Administration's data on baby names for the years 1940-2000. We then totaled the number of male and female designations for each first name. Using SSA probabilities, we assigned a gender to every name where the data showed a >= 90% confidence level. We disregarded gender-neutral names and names not yet registered in the U.S. As a result, 15.9% of examiners could not be classified. All results are based on averages.
Male Examiners Have Higher Average Allowance Rates
The data shows that male examiners approve 67% of applications on average, while female examiners approve 62.8%. In other words, male examiners are 4.2% more likely to approve an application. While that doesn’t seem like a major difference, every little bit counts in patent prosecution. As for examiners with gender-neutral names, they approve 66.3% of applications. Hover over the image below for more detail.
Both Male and Female Examiners Tend to Favor Male Inventors
Male examiners tend to favor male inventors by 6%. However, in perhaps our most surprising discovery, our data showed that female examiners also statistically favor male inventors by nearly the same amount. In fact, female examiners approve applications by female inventors only 57.9% of the time. That represents the lowest rate among the four possible combinations. To look at it another way, male applicants assigned to male examiners have the highest likelihood of success. Nonetheless, it’s important to remember that 15.9% of examiners could not be classified. Moreover, male examiners approved 66.2% of applications filed by inventors with gender-neutral names. Female examiners approved 63.5% of such applications.
Female Examiners are Faster
On average, male examiners take 991.1 days to issue a Notice of Allowance. Female examiners take only 917.3 days. That’s nearly a 2½-month difference. That’s a significant amount of time, even in the slow-moving world of patent prosecution.
Applications Filed by Female Inventors are Processed More Quickly
Male examiners take, on average, 1,003.4 days to process applications with male inventors. That number decreases to 995.4 days for female applicants. Female examiners average 930.3 days for male applicants and only 891 days for applications with female inventors. Thus, a female examiner processing an application filed by a female inventor will do so, on average, 112.4 days faster than a male examiner processing an application filed by a male inventor. That’s nearly a 4-month difference.
While we found no specific evidence that gender influences patent prosecution, the data revealed some notable trends:
- Male examiners have higher allowance rates.
- Both male and female examiners are more likely to approve applications filed by male inventors.
- Female examiners process applications more quickly.
- Both male and female examiners are faster at processing applications filed by female inventors.