Anyone taking a glance around the audience at a large scientific conference can see that there are significantly more women in science than there were just 15 years ago.

But just how big a role are these women playing? Are they getting the opportunities to work on important projects or to create new products?

The answers to these questions are elusive. But a recently released study by the United States Patent and Trademark Office reveals some interesting data that provide some clues. The report, entitled Buttons to Biotech, found that the number of women who were listed as the inventor on pat-ents granted climbed steadily between 1977 and 1988. The study also reported that the chemical sciences are among the fields most highly represented by women inventors.

Yet it is still true, according to the study, that a very small number of U.S. patents are generated by women. Despite the...

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