By Desiree Goff • May 30, 2020•Ms. JD, Writers in Residence
I have been stunned, saddened and angered by the events this week as I am sure those reading this are. But this isn’t the first time. I question how I can help, what I can write or say or DO to change the systemic issues affecting our society. I am certain that many of our readers experience covert and overt acts of racism frequently. In our careers as lawyers, we often only ACT once the damage is done. Often the prerequisite of a case is the question of “what are the damages” or “what is this case worth?” As attorneys, we react to the actions taken by others. While we can file 1983 actions, by then the damage has already been done.
This blog’s topic isn’t about civil rights law. But neither can I completely ignore what is happening this month when I see the pain and suffering of my fellow human beings. As a result I am devoting this months post to championing the accomplishments of men and women of color who have and continue to contribute to intellectual property. For far too long, these types of accomplishments were minimized, not recognized or attributed to others, and for that I apologize.
Even when excluded by the patent system, black inventors who were born or forced into slavery continued to contribute even though they did not receive patent protection. Often slave owners took credit for their slaves’ inventions and attempted to patent them for themselves. For example, inventor Henry Boyd, who purchased his own freedom from slavery in 1826, invented a corded bed with wooden rails to connect between the headboard and footboard. Rather than applying for a patent on his own, he believed he wouldn’t receive one and allowed his partner - a white craftsman - to apply for and receive a patent for the bed. His business ultimately employed 25 white and black employees. Another example is the invention by Benjamin Montgomery of a steamboat propeller designed for shallow waters in the 1850s. Montgomery applied for a patent, but the application was rejected due to his status as a slave. His owners attempted to take credit for the invention and patent it themselves, but the patent office rejected their application as well because they were not the true inventors. Thomas Jennings finally obtained the first patent letters as an African American inventor in 1821 for his work in dry cleaning innovations.*
Of special interest to this blog is the contingency of black women who are furthering the legacy of black inventors.
Lisa Ascolese, known as “The Inventress”, is the CEO and founder of Inventing A-to-Z. She has successfully invented, marketed and launched products on QVC, HSN and ShopNBC. Ms. Ascolese received multiple patents and founded the Association for Women Inventors and Entrepreneurs. Her stated goal is to help build a brighter and stronger community of successful women.**
Janet Emerson Bashen became the first black woman to receive a patent for a software invention in 2006 with U.S. patent #6,985,922 titled "Method, Apparatus and System for Processing Compliance Actions over a Wide Area Network." The software, LinkLine, was designed to be used for EEO claims intake and tracking, claims management, document management and numerous reports.***
Dr. Hadiyah-Nicole Green is a physicist who pioneered the use of laser-activated nanoparticles for cancer treatment. By using nanoparticles injected into cancer cells, she helped develop a treatment in which lasers could be used to target those cancer cells.**** At present she has filed for four patents to protect her advancements in treatments of tumor therapy. *****
I am the mother of a minority and I fear for his future, just as you fear for your children. As attorneys it is incumbent on us to stand up for justice and push for everyone to be held accountable under the law. We are the ones who can represent the unheard and give voices to them through the legal justice system.
“And I must say tonight that a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it America has failed to hear? ... It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice and humanity.”
Martin Luther King, Jr.
*Johnson, Sontavia. America’s always had black inventors - even when the patent system explicitly excluded them. The Conversation. February 14, 2017. <https://theconversation.com/americas-always-had-black-inventors-even-when-the-patent-system-explicitly-excluded-them-72619>
**Robinson, Cheryl. How Inventor Lisa Ascolese Made $6,000 in Less Than Six Minutes on QVC. Forbes March 19, 2019. <https://www.forbes.com/sites/cherylrobinson/2019/03/19/how-inventor-lisa-ascolese-made-6000-in-less-than-six-minutes-on-qvc/#17d69b681665>
****Jerald, Mark. Black History Month Alabama Icons: Dr. Hadiyah Nicole-Green Alabama NewsCenter. 2017. <https://alabamanewscenter.com/2017/02/01/black-history-month-alabama-icons-dr-hadiyah-nicole-green/>
*****Justia Patents. <https://patents.justia.com/inventor/hadiyah-nicole-green>