Professor Colleen ChienMore than 350 intellectual property leaders and attendees, from industry, academia, the government, and private law firms convened online and in-person at Santa Clara University on November 18 to tackle the problem of the lack of diversity in the innovation economy. The Innovator Diversity Pilots Conference featured keynote remarks in person by U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) Director Kathi Vidal and remotely, by University of Chicago Professor John List (author of the Voltage Effect).

The event sought to bring awareness to the problem of a severe gap between the percentage of women and minorities in the ranks of inventors—with such groups holding steeply fewer patents relative to their representation in the STEM workforce, and showcased programs that have been successful in bridging that gap. The conference encouraged attendees to pilot new solutions through collaboration between academia, industry and the government.

The conference was spearheaded by professors Colleen Chien of Santa Clara University School of Law and Margo A. Bagley of Emory School of Law, and the USPTO. Increasing the percentage of Americans of all backgrounds who participate in the innovation system is critical to global economic competitiveness for the United States because of the growing need for innovation workers to meet the challenges of the day such as global climate change and improving health outcomes for all.

The focus was on piloting – temporarily introducing new practices to learn from them – and using rigorous research methods like field experiments to evaluate effectiveness. Researchers discussed what has been tried, and what has worked to increase diversity in innovation, and in particular, to address the “innovator-inventor” gap* as defined in research by Chien: women comprise 50% of the workforce and 27% of STEM workers, but comprise only 13% of inventors, according to the USPTO’s influential Progress and Potential report, published in 2019. Gaps across many leading companies are similarly wide. 

The inaugural Innovator Diversity Pilots Conference, part of the Innovator Diversity Pilots Initiative at Santa Clara, built on efforts like the USIPA Increasing Diversity in Innovation Pledge, USPTO Council for Inclusive Innovation (CI2)IPO Diversity in IP Toolkit, and Santa Clara Diversity in Innovation Best Practices Guide. The aim is to foster a community of practice, bolster the evidence base for what works, and inform policy and regulatory efforts to promote diversity and inclusion in innovation and invention.