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May 19, 2011

Faculty conversations: Lisa D. Cook

For the next two and a half years, Lisa D. Cook will use a recently awarded National Science Foundation grant, based on her research agenda called "The Idea Gap in Pink and Black," to study the gaps in patent data in the United States.

The assistant professor in the Department of Economics and James Madison College has found women and African Americans patent less compared to the rest of the population, and mix-gendered patent teams are more productive.

"There’s something about all ideas being welcomed by everybody on the team that has some statistical merit," she said.

A main focus of her research will be to answer why women patent less than the rest of the patent population, and why African Americans patent less than women.

"It’s particularly anomalous because women are exceeding men with respect to Ph.D.s, for instance, in biology," she said. "Their numbers have been going up and this has been happening since the 1960s. You think this gap would have closed; but it has not closed, it is still very large for women versus the other patenting population and still large for African Americans."

At a time when President Barack Obama and his administration are looking for the next "Sputnik" moment, Cook said it’s important to make sure the United States has all of its resources gathered – particularly its ideas.

"Of course, patenting isn't an end itself, but we should certainly make the spread of ideas and the ease of forming units that are producing ideas a goal," she said.

Cook and a team of graduate students will begin their research this month.