Today, the Senate Judiciary Committee will mark up the IDEA Act. IDEA, sponsored by Senator Mazie Hirono (D-HI), stands for “Inventor Diversity for Economic Advancement.” One of the problems with researching diversity and patents, much less diversity and innovation, is that there isn’t good data on who invents—there are all kinds of proxy metrics that people use, especially correlation of naming patterns to gender or race, but those proxies are necessarily imperfect. For example, while names like Lauren or Ashley are typically given to women, there are any number of men with those names as well, and the proportion often changes over time. And a few names, like Jessie, Marion, and Jackie, are given almost equally between genders, meaning there is no proxy value to those names at all.
IDEA helps fix this problem. IDEA requires the Patent Office to create a procedure which allows patent applicants to, on a purely voluntary basis, submit demographic information to the Office alongside their patent application. That information would not be part of the patent application file, would not be available to examiners during examination, and would not ever be made public. However, the Office would be required to issue an annual report that provides an aggregated demographic breakdown of inventors in general and broken down by technology, country of residence, and state of residence. That information could provide significant new knowledge for researchers and policymakers seeking to increase innovation diversity, a crucial challenge in the years to come.
IDEA isn’t perfect. Voluntary collection introduces its own challenges to research, challenges like self-selection biases. But any information would be better than the status quo. Hopefully IDEA will sail through markup without any hostile amendments, heading towards a floor vote in the near future.