The Barrier For Black Patent Inventors

A recent report released by the patent office acknowledged the problems facing underrepresented groups, including Black, Hispanic, and women inventors. While the government has taken steps to address these disparities, they have been slow and uneven. In 2019, lawmakers introduced the IDEA Act, which would require the patent office to collect demographic information about applicant groups and make it public. Currently, this bill has not moved beyond the introduction stage. In the meantime, it is still unclear how to address these issues in order to increase diversity among patent inventors.


While it’s important to acknowledge that Black inventors are not the only people who face obstacles in the patent system, the number of them remains alarmingly low. According to some estimates, the number of Black patent holders is as low as six per million people. This underrepresentation in the patent system means that the U.S. is missing out on some very significant inventions. There are many reasons why Black inventors are left out, and this issue must be addressed to make the system more inclusive.

One factor that contributes to the lack of Black patents is violence. In the years following the Plessy v. Ferguson ruling, many African American inventors lost their jobs at the U.S. Patent Office and the U.S. Postal Service. Many never filed another patent after that. As a result, the number of patents filed by African Americans has declined substantially. This is the primary reason for the low number of black patents.

The low rate of patents for Black people highlights the history of white wealth in the United States. While Black people played important roles in American industrialization during the Transatlantic Slave Trade, they were excluded from the patent system because they were not of white ethnicity. Jim Crow laws and racial violence led to a downward trend in black patenting. Even today, African-Americans remain underrepresented among patent applicants, patentees, and awardees. This means that Black inventors have to fight to earn their place in the world’s wealthiest people.

While racism in the patent system is nothing new, it does present specific challenges. The first step is to understand how patents help Black inventors. Because patent records only record the inventor’s name and location, there is no way to fact-check these individuals. Moreover, people with non-Black sounding names were turned down for the simple reason that they were black. The lack of information about the person behind the patent may have been a contributing factor to the racial bias.

Financial inequality

The data on wealth, assets, and debt of American households show that they differ widely across regions. A household’s wealth is the difference between its debt and assets. Many households have more assets than debt, which includes a house, retirement account, checking and savings accounts, and a car. Among the asset categories, a pension is unique because it is not inherited. As a result, black households are often disadvantaged in accessing the stock market, investing in technology companies, and even putting away money for a rainy day fund.

However, these barriers remain significant. For Blacks and other marginalized groups, access to a patent system is not easy and often prohibits them from moving forward with their ideas. This lack of exposure to the patent system is also a barrier to entering a patent-intensive field. As a result, the number of black inventors is far lower than that of whites. This is a problem that must be addressed to ensure that more underrepresented groups enter the field.

In order to create an equitable innovation ecosystem, Black inventors must overcome historical discrimination. These innovators are typically motivated by different sets of values, as opposed to those of Eurocentric inventors. For example, antebellum white men viewed invention as a means of replacing labor or improving the efficiency of a task. This narrow definition did not account for the vernacular technological creativity of black inventors.

The economic and social resources of Southern states were particularly restrictive to Blacks’ invention. Moreover, there was a larger regional gap between Black inventors and whites. The latter group also needed a white lawyer to file a patent, which made the process more difficult for them. Overall, however, many Black inventors contributed to the American technological and economic development. In addition to contributing to the American economy, many Black inventors in the North acquired cutting-edge technical skills, science, and creativity at higher rates than their counterparts in the South.


In the late 1800s and early 1900s, segregation and racism were commonplace obstacles for black patent inventors. This article investigates ways in which African Americans were able to overcome these challenges. The authors examine the advertising records of Garrett Morgan, who is widely considered the father of modern gas masks and traffic lights. The study shows that black inventors made a significant contribution to the American economy and technology. Segregation and racism prevented Black inventors from gaining access to the mainstream patent system.

Historically, Black inventors were excluded from technical societies, professional engineering societies, and mainstream banks. This led them to develop alternative networks to access expertise and capital. Moreover, a specter of lynchings suppressed Black patenting rates through the 1940s. Garrett Morgan’s advertising intentionally masked his race. This practice was followed by many Black inventors. However, these black inventors were still marginalized by the system.

One way to overcome the barriers faced by Black inventors is to increase their representation. Research has shown that children exposed to successful Black inventors are more likely to become innovators themselves. For this reason, girls and other underrepresented minorities may become “lost Einsteins.” These inequities are both morally and practically objectionable. Furthermore, studies have shown that racially and gender diverse teams produce better outcomes. They produce more patent commercialization rates, higher sales revenues, and larger market shares.

Until recently, Black inventors were excluded from the patent system because of their race. Despite the fact that the patent system was colorblind, their work was often hidden from view. The system did not reward them for their contributions because of their race. As a result, Black inventors never received the benefits of their inventions. But the system’s modernization has changed that. There are now more patents for Black inventors.

Slave ownership

According to Shontavia Johnson, professor of Intellectual Property Law at Drake University, the most significant barrier for black patent inventors was slavery. Since slaves were not citizens of the United States, their inventions were not protected by a patent. And even if they were able to get a patent, their owners would often take credit for them. Thankfully, some of these slaves were able to get patent rights and share their business with white inventors.

In 1852, the Attorney General of the United States issued an opinion stating that an invention by an enslaved person could not be patented by its owner. The Attorney General reasoned that only the “original and first inventor” could receive a patent. The decision created a formal barrier for black patent inventors, and free African Americans were denied patent rights until they were freed from slavery. Today, the patent system is open to free black people, but the barrier to black patent inventors remains strong.

While the patent system is largely race-neutral, the real reason that the patent system is closed to black inventors is slavery. The Dred Scott ruling in 1857 declared that slaves were not U.S. citizens, preventing them from receiving patents. However, this ruling didn’t mean that the patent laws were discriminatory towards black people. This ruling, along with other discriminatory laws, made it even harder for black people to receive a patent.

While patenting for black people in the southern United States was difficult under slavery, it was still easier for white people to get a patent than for black ones. The legal system meant that black people had to work with a white lawyer, who was likely to treat them unfairly. Despite the racial disparities, black inventors contributed greatly to American economic and technological development. Interestingly, the majority of patents issued during the period were to northern African Americans.

Historically Black colleges

While historically Black colleges are often cited as barriers to pursuing a patent, they do not represent the only obstacles to success. They are also not the only reason why Black inventors are often overlooked and undervalued. Black inventors and innovators have been hampered by Jim Crow era racism and a lack of diversity in higher education. In response, community leaders started historically Black colleges and universities. Some of these colleges have been in existence since the 1860s, including Cheyney State University, which was founded before Emancipation. Others were founded after the Civil War.

The early 2000s saw the emergence of rigorous scholarship on Black inventors. Rayvon Fouche, an engineer and former USPTO patent examiner, published a report on Black inventors and scientists in the context of the segregated South. Another notable publication was The Inventive Spirit of African Americans: Patented Ingenuity. Sluby is also a registered patent agent and a chemist.

Despite these challenges, Black inventors are advancing their legacy in the innovation field. Lisa Ascolese, “The Inventress,” founded the Association of Women Inventors and Entrepreneurs, and Janet Emerson Bashen became the first black woman to receive a software patent in 2006. Dr. Hadiyah Green won a $1 million grant for her invention last year, which could cure cancer. While patent law does not explicitly exclude black inventors, many still face a lack of support.

Nonetheless, new research on Black inventors is encouraging, and recent studies have highlighted their contribution to industrialization and economic and social change. A recent report by Brookings Institution showed that patents of African Americans were more than three times higher than those of white inventors. In the same report, the number of Black patents by residents of certain states was also higher than the number of White inventors. The Brookings study examined the data provided by the Commissioner of Patents and compared it to Census data. It concluded that Black inventors were becoming increasingly diverse.

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