A lot of research has been done on women inventors in the USA, but little on those in the UK.
Until a year ago I worked as a patent specialist at the British Library. I developed an interest in women inventors due to a request for help by Deborah Jaffe. So, as you do, I decided to try to identify all women who had obtained a British patent from earliest times to 1899.
No doubt I’ve missed a few, but so far I’ve identified over 3,300 — mainly by repeatedly searching using girls’ first names in a variety of sources, or looking up known inventors on Google Books or in annual name indexes. They are on a spreadsheet.
Not all were the actual inventors. The British system did not distinguish between inventor and applicant, as did the US system, and instead favoured the applicant. Hence if Jones finances Smith in an invention, or runs a company and employs Smith, Jones is mentioned, and perhaps Smith, but the fact that Smith is merely the financier or employer is not mentioned (but the latter may be implied).
This is a real problem. Are the women inventors, or financial backers ? I have identified about 190 of the 3,300 where the woman is not the actual inventor but is involved in getting the patent granted.
Some are easy to identify. They may “communicate” an invention by a man (usually a relative), or may be the executrix or administratrix of a man (probably the husband or some other relative.
Others are harder — they have a US patent as well, which make it clear that the rights were assigned to them.
British patents do have a great advantage over US patents. They are much more likely to give full address details, to give full middle names instead of initials, and to provide details of their marital status or of employment. As the assignment details are so valuable, it is good to try to match up the patents for those women who patented on both sides of the Atlantic.
I intend in the future to post on a frequent basis, giving more details and examples of some of the inventors.
Stephen van Dulken