The Value Gap is a MarketWatch Q&A series with business leaders, academics, policymakers and activists on reducing racial and social inequalities.
Innovation holds the promise of economic prosperity for emerging inventors — but for some, seeing their idea come to fruition remains out of reach.
“Throughout history, women and underrepresented minorities have not been able to participate fully in each stage of the innovation process,” Lisa Cook, a professor of economics and international relations at Michigan State University, told MarketWatch. “We have to make sure that people understand that they have creativity, and their ideas will be taken seriously.”
Diversity gaps in the U.S. patent system persist, in part, because of an absence of data on patent applicants. This lack of transparency has meant that patent holders are predominantly white, male and wealthy.
A recent study found that women, especially African-American and Latina women, obtain patents at significantly lower rates than men; people of color get approved for patents less often than white people; and individuals from lower-income families are less likely to acquire a patent than those who grew up in affluent families.
Cook’s expertise on a range of macroeconomic issues earned her roles at the White House Council of Economic Advisers under former President Barack Obama and on President Biden’s transition team.
Asked about reports that she is on a shortlist of economists under consideration for a vacant Fed board seat, Cook said, “I’m honored my name has even been raised in the conversation.” If chosen and confirmed, she’d be the first Black woman to serve in the role.
But Cook’s scholarship on invention gaps has also shed light on the economic costs of excluding African Americans and women. Including underrepresented groups in the patent-development process would increase U.S. GDP by 2.7% per capita, and by roughly $1 trillion annually, according to her research. The economic activity from patents is estimated to be over $8 trillion, more than one-third of U.S gross domestic product.
“Every single part of that system, as far as generating ideas, keeps the economy going,” Cook said. “That’s where my analysis begins and ends. The whole world benefits when we accelerate the pace and arrival rate of ideas.”
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