The USPTO has recently received criticism about the lack of gender equality in the patent bar, which is composed of people who have passed the USPTO registration exam.

To take the patent bar, one does not have to be an attorney, but one has to have some level of technical education and training. To qualify, exam applicants have to have a bachelor’s degree in science, engineering, or computer science (Category A); a combination of some other type of degree and additional training (Category B); or practical experience like passing the Fundamentals of Engineering test (Category C).

The critics of the current qualification criteria note that while bachelor’s degrees qualify people to take the exam, master’s degrees in those same subjects do not, and many of the degrees that are in Category B that require additional training should qualify the recipient to take the exam. Some believe that many of the degrees in Category B tend to have more women recipients. They additionally cite that the majority of people with master’s degrees in the subjects in Category A, but whose bachelor’s degrees are different, are also women.

In response, the USPTO proposes to add master’s degrees from those subjects in which bachelor degrees would qualify to Category A, move the degrees in Category B to Category A, and adjust how core sciences could be combined in Category B to qualify for the exam.

The proposal rests on the idea that expanding candidate eligibility for the patent bar exam will promote better gender equality. As co-authors in a recent Law360 article addressing these issues, Marie Weiskopf and I note that this approach may help as part of an overall approach to qualifying more women for the patent bar, along with focus on bringing more girls into STEM, and ways to encourage women inventors in the field.

This update is part of our continued coverage on the USPTO response to gender gap criticism, originally addressed in an earlier blog post.