Senator Warren and Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee Push US Patent Office for Transparency on Barriers Faced by Underrepresented Inventors
“While the country’s patent system is meant to encourage innovation, the geographic, socioeconomic, racial, and gender-based gaps in access to obtaining patent protections are instead stifling advancement and growth,” the letter reads.
Washington, D.C. — United States Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Representative Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) pushed for transparency in a letter to the U.S. Patent and Trade office (USPTO) that highlights lawmakers' concerns about the disproportionate challenges faced by underrepresented inventors seeking patent protections for their ideas. The letter urges the USPTO to answer for its lack of data around the challenges and barriers faced by women, people of color, and small businesses applying for patents.
“We are writing to express our concerns regarding the disproportionate challenges that small businesses, women, people of color, and other underrepresented inventors face in the patent approval process at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office,” wrote the lawmakers. “These challenges present these inventors with a significant disadvantage compared to Big Tech, Big Pharma, and other giant corporations.”
“In one case that highlights this gap, Katrina Parrott, a Black woman and owner of a small business, ‘built and launched iDiversicons, an iPhone app that allowed users to copy and paste emoji with five distinct skin tones into their messages,’ in 2013,” the lawmakers continued. “Despite early talks with an Apple senior director to incorporate her invention into the iPhone interface, Apple told Ms. Parrott in October 2014 that ‘(they) would not be working with her on the emoji project.’ The company has since claimed ‘that it developed diverse skin tone emoji independently and did not copy her work.’ Though Ms. Parrott waited over five years for the Office to approve her application – during which time she received multiple rejections, filed appeals, and provided the information requested – she ultimately did not receive a patent. Meanwhile, the USPTO granted Apple 2,541 patents in 2021 alone.”
“Small entities who submit patent applications have experienced lower success rates than larger companies, women inventors have been less likely to have their applications accepted than men, and minority inventors are less likely to receive granted patents than white inventors. While the country’s patent system is meant to encourage innovation, the geographic, socioeconomic, racial, and gender-based gaps in access to obtaining patent protections are instead stifling advancement and growth,” the lawmakers concluded. “We are seeking information from the USPTO about this troubling pattern of a gap in patent approvals that the USPTO may be further exacerbating.”
The lawmakers are urging the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to respond in full to their questions no later than February 28, 2023.
Senator Warren previously wrote to the USPTO to hold pharmaceutical companies accountable for anti-competitive business practices and tackle high drug prices.
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