Discrimination in Patent Protections

The Fashion Law recently discussed some of the discriminatory practices that are happening in the fashion industry. Based on a report by the Institute for Women’s Police Research (IWPR), the blog post explored how certain groups are disadvantaged in the patent granting process.

Patents are used in the fashion industry to protect novel designs and processes. Essentially, companies like Gucci, Marc Jacobs, and MaxMara have used this process to hold a monopoly over their designs and protect themselves from being openly copied in the industry. In fact, the main image is an example of a dress patented by Stella McCartney. Although patents are increasingly used in the fashion industry, the report by IWPR reveals that very few women and people of colour are represented in the group of creators and entrepreneurs that are being granted patent protection. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office is less likely to grant patents to black and hispanic women than to white women and men.


While this discrepancy could be a result of many confounding variables, one thing remains clear. Women of colour “are leading in the growth of female-owned businesses over the last two decades”. This means that even though there are many more women of colour in the industry over the past few years, they are still less likely to be granted patents than white women.

The report accounts for the fact that the fields from which many patent applications are generated, such as in technology and science, already have an unequal representation of men to women. This will impact the way they measure how patents are granted. Even further, applying for patents is an expensive process. Consider the simple fact that many women still earn less than men. This means more men from the science and technology fields may have the money to protect their innovations and hire patent lawyers than their female counterparts.

Another report published in early 2017 revealed that “81% of all patents filed do not have a single women inventor at all”. What impact does this unrepresentative process have? Well, with less diversity in the innovative marketplace, one has to wonder how innovative and diverse ideas can be if they are coming from the same population. The ability to draw from a set of unique experiences, whether it be from one’s experience as a woman or as a person of colour, gives one an edge in the design process. If these groups are unable to protect their designs and ideas, there are implications for whether they will even risk putting their designs forward and whether they are left more vulnerable to copycats in the market.

The IWPR report helps to raise awareness about the issues of representation that exist with protecting the inventions of individuals from minority groups. It covers a number of strategies created to address the marginalization women and people of colour face in these industries. The different strategies have the impact to connect these individuals to the resources they need to succeed, but also the strategies raise the awareness necessary to help others recognize that there is an issue that needs to be addressed.

Information and Images Gathered From: Institute for Women’s Policy Research; The Fashion Law; The Faculty Lounge

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