In July of 2021, the United States Intellectual Property Alliance (USIPA) launched The Diversity Pledge, which encouraged companies to use patent data as a way to visualize who is participating in their innovation and inventorship processes and more importantly who is not.

Today, more than 50 major companies in the United States and Europe have signed the pledge to understand and address the issue of underrepresented inventors (URI) within their organizations and to facilitate more participation in the innovation ecosystem so that all people and ideas in the United States have an opportunity for success. Additionally, more than 25 law firms, consulting firms and academic institutions have signed on as pledge supporters to provide their assistance as part of the innovation ecosystem.

Some of the founding pledgees, which include Meta, Lenovo, Adobe, AT&T, HP, Cisco, and Microsoft, each made a three-year commitment to learn about one or more groups of underrepresented inventors and identify opportunities and ultimately create best practices to promote equitable opportunities for those groups. 

The companies also committed to anonymously report the following data by March 2024 per the Diversity in Innovation Pledge:

  • Inventorship Rate for a specific URI group = # of Unique Underrepresented Inventors on Patent Applications) ÷ (Total # of Unique Inventors on Patent Applications)
  • Fractional Inventorship Rate for a specific URI group (e.g., average percentage of URIs per patent application in each calendar year) = Sum of % of URIs per Patent Application) ÷ (Total # of Patent Applications)

The USPTO’s Progress and Potential Report was the first step in raising national awareness of gender participation in the innovation process, with women only participating on 13% of patents.  We can all agree that as a nation we need to do better, and create an innovation ecosystem where all talented inventors can participate. Today, Meta and Lenovo shared their gender baseline data after the first year, with the hope that their efforts will encourage greater transparency of inventorship data by all companies. 

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Nish Parikh Forbes Councils Member

Forbes Human Resources Council

Corporate initiatives to foster an inclusive workplace — or what has come to be known as diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) — have been steadily growing in recent years. Earlier, DE&I was considered only government compliance or just a “program” to be run by companies. But organizations are now faced with an overwhelming degree of disruption since the Covid-19 pandemic broke out. While some have faced huge revenue losses, operation and supply chain dislocations, and liquidity and solvency challenges, others are trying to cope with unforeseen demand spikes.

The lessons already learned from the pandemic tell us that DE&I may now recede as a strategic priority in most organizations. And one can’t blame a company’s leaders for that. It may be largely unintentional. Most companies will have to focus on more pertinent needs like adapting to new ways of working, consolidating the workforce capacity and maintaining productivity.

Key To Recovery

A 2018 McKinsey report exhaustively demonstrates how decisive diversity and inclusion practices are to organizational success. The January 2018 issue of the Deloitte Review has revealed that companies that follow an inclusive culture are twice more likely to meet or exceed financial targets and six times more likely to be agile and innovative. These companies, the report claims, are eight times more likely to achieve a better business outcome.

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“Diversity and inclusion are an American problem; we don’t have this issue here.”

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve heard this from non-U.S.-based employees of global companies. I’ve also lost count of the number of times I’ve heard managers express surprise when their U.S.-based diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) efforts are not as successful in locations outside of the U.S.

To date, organizations across the world have followed the American lead when it comes to DEI. They’ve benefited from the extensive research, data, literature, role models, best practices, narratives, and success stories and have been inspired to address inequality in their own workplaces. But for global organizations aspiring to be inclusive of diverse talent across their international teams, it’s just as important that employees in Paris, Mumbai, and Buenos Aires are on board as it is for those in New York and Seattle.

While biases, discrimination, and inequality exist everywhere, their expression is contextual. To move the needle further and faster, leaders need to address DEI with a diversified lens whose view includes narratives, discussions, and solutions that are representative of local contexts. If they don’t, global companies’ local teams will likely continue to have limited success with their “one-size-fits-all” DEI efforts. DEI will remain an “American issue” and global progress restricted. It’s time to diversify DEI.

To do this, leaders can draw inspiration from the management term “glocal,” a mix of the words global and local. The term was made popular by the sociologist Roland Robertson and describes a management approach that balances the need for global strategies and practices with local adaptation.

Using a glocal lens allows organizations to identify a DEI vision and strategy that defines broad areas of focus while also allowing flexibility for local adaptation within those key areas. Here are five things to keep in mind when diversifying your DEI approach.

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Suzanne Harrison and Bowman Heiden

Welcome to Inclusivity Insights – a new monthly feature in which companies will share stories, learnings, and experiences of their D&I journey related to IP and innovation with the IAM audience. To introduce the series, Suzanne Harrison and Bowman Heiden provide background on the Increasing Diversity in Innovation programme and share some preliminary findings.

In July 2021, the USIPA and the UC Berkeley Fung Institute for Engineering Leadership held a four-day conference focused on Increasing Diversity in Innovation (IDII) within a corporate organisation. At the conference, we announced the 30 founding companies that signed onto the Diversity Pledge, who have agreed to work together to increase the participation of underrepresented inventors (URIs) in their own firms as well as create and refine a set of best practices for the benefit of all organisations.

Currently, we have over 50 technology companies committed to the Diversity Pledge from both the US and Europe across a variety of different industries as well as over 25 law firms and consulting firms as pledge supporters. The decision to create a pledge at the core of our initiative is quite simple – the achievement of meaningful results requires a commitment to putting in the work (i.e. nothing important is ever easy).

Increasing diversity in innovation is not only an equal-opportunity social imperative, it is a common-sense means to improve R&D efficiency and corporate ROI. It is also a necessity for maintaining and increasing national competitiveness. Because we can’t afford to leave our most talented people on the sidelines, the goal must be actionable, not performative.  

To help companies on this journey, we have created an IDII framework and a number of different working groups to break down this large overwhelming challenge into manageable steps. This allows companies to connect and support one another across the different stages of the IDII development cycle from establishing a baseline, to understanding where to take action and why, and back again to measuring the results. This iterative cycle is essential to the entrepreneurial process required to make a real impact through persistent learning. In addition to sharing information, learnings, and practices, the working groups also help create peer groups to facilitate networking, benchmarking, and the development of new focus areas. Below is a list and description of the working groups:

  • Data (getting and analysing it) – This group focuses on all aspects of data such as its collection, creation of a baseline, analysis, and production of actionable insights as well as how to move beyond gender data to other underrepresented inventor (URI) groups.
  • Metrics & reporting  This group focuses both on the creation and standardisation of metrics as well as how companies can and should report this data. A particular focus is on the standardisation of information. Additionally, this group will also focus on how to collect the data to meet the pledge requirements.
  • Working with URI groups – This group focuses on all aspects of interfacing with URI groups. Creating and disseminating URI surveys and questionnaires, automated allowance/rejection notices to inventors, tips and tricks on improving internal language and messaging, and more. Additionally, it will focus on finding effective practices that work for specific URI groups.
  • URI innovation sprint – This group focuses on best practices for running innovation sprints for URI groups, including delineating the various types of innovation sprints and training on how to run a 635-method sprint, which has been proven to be universally successful in improving engagement from URI groups.

Although we have only been working on this problem for six months, we would like to share some preliminary key findings:

  1. Unconscious bias is real and everywhere. Some companies have found that blinding the inventorship process improves gender patenting. This was not an expected result, as the companies believed there was no bias in their inventorship process to begin with, hence the term, “unconscious”. As a bonus, it can also drive down costs. Additionally, patent data can be used to visualise unconscious bias in R&D collaborations, leading to new and improved collaboration processes, which can increase inventor efficiency as well as inclusivity.
  2. Reporting is ramping up. The SEC is pushing companies to report Human Capital metrics. This means that accounting firms, D&I organisations, and financial actors are all looking for viable measures to report inclusivity. Several of the pledgee companies are looking to take the lead by externally reporting their D&I numbers later this year.
  3. Running the basic numbers can be automated. The USPTO and WIPO have both shown that naming algorithms combined with public patent data can produce rather accurate measures of inventorship diversity and inclusion for both countries and companies, especially in the case of gender.

So stay tuned for the next monthly installment, and if are looking for some help and encouragement on how best to Increase Diversity in Innovation, then please come join the movement at

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Braxton Davis and Jeremiah Chan have heard the complaint from law firms with patent specialties for years: The firms want to hire diverse candidates, but qualified women and racial minorities are hard to find.

So when Davis joined Chan’s patent team at Meta Platforms Inc. last year, they started to brainstorm. The result was the Patent Pipeline Program (PPP), designed to train scientists and engineers in patent work and connect them with law firms—before they ever enter law school.

“To the law firms and legal departments that keep saying they cannot find diverse candidates, PPP essentially says, ‘No problem,’” said Chan, head of patents at Meta. “PPP delivers a direct supply of talented candidates.”

The program is part of a broader effort to rethink how law firms and companies can increase diversity in the patent field, where women and racial minorities are severely underrepresented. Fewer than 2% of patent attorneys and patent agents, for example, are women who are members of minority groups, one study found.

Law firms’ efforts to recruit diverse candidates have traditionally relied on law schools and lateral attorney hires. The PPP takes a different approach. It focuses on graduating college students, putting them on a path to become technical specialists and patent agents.

“The patent bar gives us a unique opportunity to take advantage of the fact that you don’t have to go to law school in order to join the patent profession,” Davis said.

More ‘Michaels’ Than Racially Diverse Women

Fewer than 22% of patent attorneys and agents registered with the Patent and Trademark Office are women, a 2020 study led by the Virginia patent law firm Harrity & Harrity LLP found. Patent agents aren’t attorneys but can work on inventors’ patent applications.

The average number of PTO registrants who are racial minorities has been around 6.5% over the past two decades, according to the study.

“Among racially diverse women, the numbers are significantly worse,” the authors wrote in a September 2020 article for Landslide, a magazine published by the ABA’s Section of Intellectual Property Law.

“In fact, there are more patent attorneys and agents named ‘Michael’ in the United States than there are racially diverse women,” the authors wrote.

Various factors contribute to the low numbers. A science or engineering background is required to take the required Patent and Trademark Office’s patent bar exam and register with the office. A lack of diversity in those fields narrows the patent pipeline.

Even then, students with the technical chops often aren’t exposed to patent work as a career path. And for those who want to become patent attorneys, law school presents its own barriers, including high costs.

What’s left is a small group of diverse students leaving law school with the qualifications to be patent lawyers.

“Law firms and corporate legal departments all want to recruit diverse candidates, but we are ultimately left fishing from the same small pool of candidates,” said Micheal Binns, associate general counsel at Meta.

Healing the Wound

The lack of diversity has consequences for inventors seeking patent protection.

Chan recalled the story of Sara Blakely, the founder of Spanx, who in the late 1990s wanted to patent her invention for women’s shapewear. Blakely couldn’t find a single female patent attorney in Georgia.

And male patent attorneys she visited “were not super impressed” with her idea, Blakely previously told NPR. Blakely ended up having to draft much of the application herself.

“All of this is very connected to the importance of diversity across the board, and it demonstrates the importance of diverse perspectives in fostering and supporting innovation,” Chan said.

Davis has been teaching women and minorities the basics of preparing patent applications for over a decade, most recently through a nonprofit he created, the National Council on Patent Practicum.

Since partnering with Meta to launch the PPP, the NCPP has been trying to keep up with the interest from law firms and corporations that want to be part of the program. Some to jump in early on include BakerHostetler, FisherBroyles LLP, and IBM Corp.

Already three candidates are in law firms as technical specialists. They will also spend time in-house, experiences that allow them to dig into patent work. It can also be a jumping off point to law school for candidates interested in becoming patent attorneys.

“We’re doing something to not bandage the wound but actually heal it,” Davis said. “It’s not just a quick fix.”

The NCPP is working now to scale up and bring on more people to train the next class of candidates. Program leaders are also considering ways to expand the PPP, including potential scholarships for individuals who decide to go to law school.

“That is the value of this program—it’s increasing the pool in the field,” said Mark Tidman, chair of the IP group at BakerHostetler, which has brought on a technical specialist through the PPP.

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A few days ago, former Miami Dolphins football coach, Brian Flores, sued the National Football League (NFL) and three teams alleging discrimination in the course of his interview processes with two teams and his termination by Miami. Among the allegations in the 58-page lawsuit, Flores describes a situation in which he was scheduled to interview with the NY Giants, but days before the interview, received an inadvertent text from former boss Bill Belichick congratulating another candidate for already getting the job. When asked about the incident, the Giants said they were “pleased and confident” with their hiring process, and that they seriously considered Flores. 

The NFL implemented the Rooney Rule in 2003 to correct inequities in management roles by requiring teams to interview minority candidates for head coaching vacancies. Nearly 20 years have passed since the creation of the rule, and today, we have only 1 black head coach in a league where nearly 60% of the players are black. The data speaks for itself, and the NFL is just one of many examples where people from historically marginalized communities are denied equal opportunities. The legal industry is no exception. 

Women and people of color are severely underrepresented in my own profession of intellectual property law. For example, the American Bar Association reported that only 5% of attorneys in the U.S. are Black, and only 1.7% practice intellectual property law according to a survey by the American Intellectual Property Law Association. Only 21% of patent practitioners registered with the patent bar identify as female even though women account for more than 50 percent of law school entering classes. The numbers are bad, but the lack of progress is just as alarming.

Extensive research has shown that diverse teams are better in every way – smarter, more innovative, and more effective at solving problems. When you have people with different backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives, it facilitates greater cognitive diversity which produces better solutions. For global companies like my employer, a more diverse workforce is better able to design and ship inclusive products that meet the needs of its diverse global user community. 

So if diverse teams clearly deliver better results, what’s stopping us from hiring them? Here are a few reasons why I think progress has been so slow in my profession.  

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Before recent increased DEI efforts led companies to directly partner with schools, many HBCU students struggled to find job opportunities that aligned with their career goals. It’s an experience that Bilal Issifou knows well — after finding himself at an internship he wasn’t passionate about, the North Carolina A&T alumnus launched his tech-based start-up Unchained Inc., which has helped hundreds of HBCU students and graduates get jobs and internships at Fortune 500 companies.

Native to Togo, West Africa, Issifou came to the U.S. at age 5. His parents instilled hard work and education in him at an early age, which prompted him to pursue pre-law in undergrad. Being on campus helped him hone in on his networking, communication and interpersonal skills, which Issifou says was “critical to his success as an entrepreneur.”

After starting Kingdom of Youth, a nonprofit dedicated to the development of school-aged children in Greensboro, North Carolina, Issifou decided he wanted to further uplift Black students by creating a professional web platform that pairs HBCU students and graduates with companies that align with their interests and experience. 

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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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Pro-diversity messages are everywhere, whether you’re searching for a job, playing soccer, or watching the Oscars. Their point is simple: Diversity is good and we need more of it. In the business world, for example, we know that more-diverse groups tend to be more innovativecreativehard-working, and better at solving problems. Yet despite the proliferation of interest in diversity and costly initiatives aimed at increasing it, discrimination continues to be a major problem in the labor market.

In trying to address discrimination, many organizations now explicitly advertise their dedication to diversity, identifying themselves as “equal opportunity” or “diversity-friendly” employers. The thinking, presumably, is that such statements will increase the diversity of their applicant pool and ultimately of their workforce. We know a lot about how effective these diversity statements are, and, unfortunately, the answer is “not very.” They can even backfire by making organizations less likely to notice discrimination.

On the other hand, we know relatively little about the steps minority job seekers are taking to avoid anticipated discrimination. One way racial minorities may be trying to avoid discrimination is via a practice called “resume whitening” — concealing or downplaying racial cues on a job application to increase the chance of getting a callback for an interview. Resume whitening goes hand-in-hand with the desire to “tone down” or “downplay” race and to maintain a relatively “raceless” workplace identity.

To address this gap, we recently conducted three studies, which will appear in Administrative Science Quarterly, to learn more about whitening and how it is influenced by organizational diversity statements — and about how organizations respond to whitening.

In our first study, we interviewed black and Asian university students who were actively searching for jobs or internships. We found that roughly one-third of our sample had engaged in whitening, and two-thirds knew someone else who had. The main areas where this whitening occurred were with names (e.g., using a “white” first name such as Jenn instead of an Asian first name such as Jing) and descriptions of experience (e.g., dropping “Black” when listing membership in the “Black Engineering Students’ Association”). Among the motivations that interviewees mentioned for whitening, the main reason was to tone down their race in order to avoid discrimination. Importantly, interviewees indicated that they whitened less or not at all when applying to jobs for employers who explicitly state that they value diversity.

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An expert in entrepreneurship argues that greater diversity is the key to corporate creativity.

When Riitta Katila looks at old photos or movies about the space program of the 1960s, she sees one common thread among the people depicted there — homogeneity.

The engineers and technicians who first put humans on the moon were, almost without exception, white and male.

While society has come a long way in the decades since, Katila, who is an expert in technology strategy and organizational learning, says there’s still a long way to go. She notes that companies need innovation not only to reach the top, but to stay there. And now more than ever, innovative companies should be hiring, promoting, and listening to a broader range of voices.

The good news is that innovation can be taught. It’s like a recipe, says Katila, who encourages entrepreneurs — even those who have already built successful companies — to seek out mentors who can help them navigate the future. More important, those same entrepreneurs need to proactively identify mentors who can empower their team members to think like innovators too, as Katila tells Stanford Engineering’s The Future of Everything podcast, hosted by bioengineer Russ Altman. You can listen and subscribe here.

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