Plenty of women and members of minority groups are hoping to invent the next iPhone, blockbuster medicine or top-selling toy, but too often they don’t get patents that would ensure they get paid for their ideas.

A new report from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office concludes that those disparities could cost the U.S. its technological leadership because patents are frequently the first step to attracting investors.

“Innovation in the United States is highly concentrated, and vast swaths of our population are not fully participating,” the study, released last month, concludes.

The magnitude of the problem isn’t precisely known because the patent office only collects the name, mailing address and residence of applicants.

Studies by independent groups such as the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation are based on surveys. A Harvard University study last year found whites are more than three times as likely to become inventors as blacks. Other research commissioned by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research concluded that only 18% of U.S. patents list a woman as an inventor.

The October patent office study recommends Congress give the office authority to collect demographic data with its own confidential, voluntary surveys -- conceding that they need to be careful to avoid the perception that such data might be used in examining patent requests and deter underrepresented groups from applying.

The study found a variety of factors that led to the under representation of women and minorities among patent holders, including a history of legal, economic and educational impediments -- from slavery and segregation to laws that limited the ability of women to own property. There also continues to be a lack of diversity in the types of fields in which more ideas are patentable, including science, technology, engineering and math.

“It’s difficult to tell where in the system the exact breakdown occurs, but we do know it does occur,” Patent and Trademark Office Director Andrei Iancu said in an interview.

Ultimately, the nation would benefit from expanding the diversity of patent holders, Iancu said.

“For an individual, it helps with your career growth and potential. For a company, it helps you make and sell your product and be more successful at it,” he said. “In the aggregate, it helps the United States.”

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