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Ladas & Parry LLP would like to take this time during Black History Month and the upcoming Women’s History Month to take a look at some pioneers, both past and present, in the field of intellectual property law.  We value and are enriched by diversity in all of its forms and we salute those who helped shape the world we have today.

“I am delighted to pay tribute to the remarkable IP pioneers before me who overcame tremendous obstacles to succeed. Shedding light on the indomitable spirit and achievements of these individuals shows that it is not just about history, but also herstory and that ultimately, these great men and women should be celebrated all year as part of our rich American history.” Ralph H. Cathcart – Partner, Ladas & Parry LLP


Dr. Patricia Bath: First African American Female Physician to Receive a U.S. Patent for a Medical Invention

(1942 – Present), New York Ophthalmologist, became the first African American female doctor to receive a patent for a medical invention. The patent, No. 4,744,360, issued to protect a method for removing cataracts from patient’s eyes. Her invention literally transformed eye surgery and utilized a laser device (Cataract Laserphaco Probe). Dr. Bath’s invention used cutting edge laser technology to quickly and painlessly vaporize cataracts from patient’s eyes and restore vision, even for people who had no vision for years! Dr. Bath’s contribution may never be fully appreciated, except by those individuals who received the gift of sight again!


Garrett MorganGarret Morgan: Gifted African American Inventor & Businessman

(1873 -1963), was an extremely gifted African American inventor and businessman from Cleveland, Ohio. Most historians are aware that he invented an electronic, automatic traffic light and obtained a patent therefor in 1923 (U.S. Patent No. 1475024 A). Historians say that Mr. Morgan began working on his invention in earnest after witnessing a terrible collision between a motorized car and a horse drawn carriage. It is likely, however, that Mr. Morgan’s interest in inventing a safe, electronic, automatic time-sequenced traffic light was also self-motivated, as he is alleged to be the first African American in Cleveland to own a motorized automobile. In any event, his invention proved so useful and economical to mass produce that he sold the rights to his invention to General Electric for a small fortune at the time. Less known, but perhaps more significant, Mr. Morgan also invented and obtained a patent for a safety hood and smoke protector or “gas mask”. In fact, he heroically saved 32 men trapped in an underground tunnel beneath Lake Erie with the help of other brave volunteers also donning his gas mask.   Mr. Morgan received many requests from all over the country by fire departments anxious to purchase his unique gas mask. The U.S. Army ultimately used a modified version of Morgan’s gas mask during World War I. As history buffs well know, the use of mustard gas and other deadly chemical warfare was not uncommon during World War I. We will likely never know how many lives Mr. Morgan’s inventions saved!

Norbert RillieuxNorbert Rillieux: Patented Multiple-Effect Vacuum Pan Evaporator

(1806 – 1894), the son of a slave, Mr. Rillieux patented the multiple- effect vacuum pan evaporator. His invention was used on sugar cane juice to enhance sugar refining capability. By heating the sugar cane juice in a vacuum, its boiling point was greatly reduced, thus reducing fuel consumption in the refinery. Ultimately, the invention greatly reduced the price of sugar and made sugar into a household commodity readily available to consumers. At least one author claims that some have argued that Mr. Rillieux’s invention was the greatest invention in the history of American chemical engineering up until such time.


Stephanie Kwolek: Created Man-Made Fiber that Became Kevlar®

(1923-2014), was an American chemist and inventor.  In 1965, she unexpectedly discovered a process for creating a man-made fiber that was five times as strong as steel and fire-resistant, yet lightweight.  The first Kevlar® vests were introduced to the market ten years after her discovery, and these products have gone on to save thousands of lives, in addition to myriad other applications.  Ms. Kwolek is a named inventor on a line of patents covering this process and the resulting fiber.  Among her many achievements, Ms. Kwolek was awarded the National Medal of Technology, the nation’s highest honor for technological achievement, bestowed by the President of the United States of America on America’s leading innovators, in 1996; the Society of Chemical Industry’s Perkin Medal, one of the highest honors awarded in applied chemistry in the U.S., in 1997; was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 1995 and the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 2003; and is the first and only woman to receive DuPont’s Lavoisier Medal, in 1995.  Ms. Kwolek also served as a mentor for female scientists, including tutoring high school students in chemistry after her retirement.


Lewis LatimerLewis Howard Latimer: Instrumental in the Invention of the Telephone & Lighting

(1848 – 1928), was the son of escaped slaves from Virginia. In 1864, at the tender age of 16, Mr. Latimer lied about his age so he could enlist in the United States Navy and fight with the Union against slavery. After the Civil War concluded, he accepted a menial job at the Crosby and Gould Patent office in Boston. Given his undeniable intelligence and intellectual curiosity, the partners at Crosby and Gould promoted him from “office boy” to a Draftsman. This was no inconsequential achievement at the time for a young black man. Latimer quickly learned and then mastered mechanical drawing. Over his career he worked closely with Thomas Edison and Alexander Graham Bell. Latimer helped Bell to draft the patent for Bell’s design of the telephone. Inventor Latimer was also responsible for achievements in incandescent lighting. He became an indispensable partner to Thomas Edison and later his chief competitor, Hiram Maxim. Although Edison and Bell are largely viewed as the first inventors of the telephone and lighting, many modern historians believe that Latimer likely deserved much more credit for such inventions. In 1890, Latimer published a book entitled Incandescent Electric Lighting: a Practical Description of the Edison System.

James West, Inventor of over 250 Patents

(1931 to Present), is a scientist, inventor, professor and writer. Mr. West has obtained more than 250 patents covering microphones and related inventions involving polymer-foil electrets. In 1962, he and his colleague Gerhardt M. Sessler developed the electret transducer technology which has become the industry standard and is used in 90 percent of contemporary microphones. Later, Mr. West became a professor at John Hopkin’s University School of Engineering. During his career he has received numerous awards and accolades, including, inter alia, 1995 Inventor of The Year award from the State of New Jersey, Industrial Research Institute’s 1998 Achievement Award, named a Fellow of IEEE and was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 1999.

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