Author: Ralph H. Cathcart | Practices: , , , , , , , , ,


Black History Month

Ladas & Parry LLP considers diversity and inclusion as core values and principles that provide access to opportunity, consolidation of expertise and range of perspectives and ensures excellence, particularly in the IP field. We salute those who have helped shape the world and would like to shine a light on these pioneers who sometimes receive little or no credit.

“I am delighted once again to pay tribute to the remarkable IP pioneers before me, who overcame significant obstacles to excel, even when the playing field was not even. Celebrating these individuals enriches our history and sheds light on the truth and the magnitude of the contributions made by these great men and women.”
Ralph H. Cathcart – Partner, Ladas & Parry LLP


ANDREW JACKSON BEARD (c. 1849 -1921)
This amazing inventor spent the first 15 years of his life as a slave in Eastlake, Alabama. Once emancipated, he became a successful farmer, and in 1872 this enterprising man built his own flour mill, which he operated for many years. His keen intellect and knowledge of farming led him to develop several inventions.  In 1881 he patented a new double plow design (U.S. patent no. 240,642.   In 1882, he patented a design for a new rotary steam engine and obtained two patents (U.S. patent no. 433,847 and U.S. patent no. 478,271).  In 1887 he patented another double plow design that allowed for pitch adjustment (patent no. 347,220). He sold some of his patents and invested in real estate.

However, Mr. Beard was probably best known for patents he invented after working with the railroads. Mr. Beard invented improvements to coupler’s used to hook railroad cars together. Known as Jenny Couplers, they were extremely dangerous and required a railroad worker to physically insert a pin in the link between the two cars. Mr. Beard’s ingenious invention allowed railroad cars to be linked automatically and safely. He obtained U.S. patent nos. 594,059 and 624,901.  Mr. Beard’s invention was the first automatic railroad car coupler widely used in the U.S. Indeed, Congress subsequently passed the Federal Safety Appliance Act, which made it illegal to operate any railroad car without automatic couplers.

(1933 – 1989)
Mr. Croslin was a brilliant inventor. He is credited with inventing the Medtek 410.  The device was a revolutionary blood monitoring device with computerized technology. Prior to its development, doctors had to make inferences based largely on guess work. The Medtek410 eliminated the guess work and uncertainty and provided doctors with reliable and accurate data so as to make informed decisions and provide treatment based on accurate information about the patient’s body. Mr. Croslin also developed a similar device, the Medtek 420, for monitoring a patient’s pulse. The Medtek 420 automatically adjusts to account for surrounding noise and air pressure.

MARIAN CROAK (1955 present)
Marian Croak is a renowned computer scientist and inventor. She has significantly contributed to modern communication technology. She is the owner of over 200 patents and was inducted into the Women In Technology International Hall of Fame for her many inventions and noteworthy achievements.  She is probably best known for her development of Voice Over Internet Protocol or VoIP technology.  Her superior intellect and innovative thought process is widely recognized. Indeed, she has held several industry leading positions, including Senior vice President of Research and development at AT&T and Vice President of Engineering at Google.  She is credited with significantly advancing modern communication technology.


Brilliant You Denim is a North Carolina-based business founded by Terry Davis. She is the first known African-American female denim manufacturer in the U.S. The success of Davis’ business required overcoming the monumental task of entering and competing in the multi-billion-dollar denim industry. She tackled this challenge by drawing on problem-solving skills developed during her career as an electrical engineer. One of her top priorities was to obtain a design patent for her jeans’ enhancement innovation. The company now holds 11 patents, with several more pending, and has trademarked its brand. Ms. Davis made it a point to set up the company’s manufacturing facilities in Greensboro, North Carolina, because she believes in rebuilding manufacturing domestically in the U.S and not outsourcing to other countries. After growing the domestic business, Davis is now looking to expand into Canada and Mexico.


After 13 seasons of playing in the NFL, Shawn Springs founded Windpact, a company based in Leesburg, Virginia, focused on impact protection of the human brain. He set out with a mission “to be the most advanced impact protection company in the world, to make everyday lives safer” after experiencing the effects of concussions firsthand. That knowledge, combined with the insights gained from a component of an infant car seat, led him to build a company that uses patented Crash Cloud™ technology to protect athletes, soldiers, and automobile passengers from traumatic brain injuries.  Shawn Springs trademarked the company’s name Windpact in 2011 and set out to focus on finding a solution to mitigate the effects of collisions. With the help of his attorneys and colleagues, he applied for his patent (U.S. Patent no. 8,863,320 B2), which protected his exclusive right to use the padding technology for helmets. Shawn Springs also obtained a trademark for the name he gave to the technology – Crash Cloud.


New York Ophthalmologist Dr. Patricia Bath, 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!


(1856-1910) Granville Woods, known as the “Black Edison”, was an engineer who developed many important electrical inventions. He was born in 1856 and attended school until he was 10 years old after which he began working in a machine shop fixing railroad equipment. At age 20 it is said that he attended a technical college where he studied mechanical and electrical engineering. After having difficulty finding a job, he would eventually start his own business.

Railway Telegraphy (U.S. Patent No. 388,803), is considered one of his most important inventions. This invention made communication possible between trains and train depots. Thomas Edison, who claimed to be the creator of this invention, filed a lawsuit. Woods challenged his claim and won. Afterwards, Edison offered him a position in his company Edison Electric Light Company in New York. Woods did not accept the offer. Over the course of his life, Granville Woods was granted over 35 patents mostly for railway communication and technology.

Each year, The New Jersey Chamber of Commerce gives out the Alice H. Parker Women Leaders in Innovation Award to honor the memory of Alice H. Parker, an African American woman from Morristown, New Jersey who is known for designing a gas furnace that paved the way to modern heating systems and thermostats. Though Ms. Parker was a graduate of Howard University (1910) she did not have training in this area and yet she received a U.S. patent (US1325905A) for her design on December 23, 1919. At the time of her design, most homes in Morristown were heated with wood or coal.

Mr. Jennings was the first known African American to receive a patent in the United States on March 3, 1821 (U.S. Patent No. 3306x). By doing so, he helped pave the way for future inventors of color to successfully obtain ownership in the exclusive rights to their inventions. Mr. Jennings lived in New York City and worked as a tailor and dry cleaner. In 1821 he invented an early method of dry cleaning called “dry-scouring”. He did this four years prior to Jean Baptiste Jolly of Paris, France, who invented a similar technique for which many people have confusedly credited as the first dry cleaning process.

At the time of Mr. Jennings’ invention, most African Americans were viewed as chattel and could not assert legal rights or ownership. Indeed, the U.S. Patent Laws at the time provided that “The slave master is the owner of the fruits of the labor of the slave, both manual and intellectual”. A literal interpretation meant that while slaves couldn’t legally own their ideas or inventions at that time, no such prohibition applied to Mr. Jennings, who was a free man. Mr. Jennings used profits from his invention to purchase the freedom of the rest of his relatives. He was an ardent abolitionist and served as the assistant secretary of the First Annual Convention of the People of Color, which met in Philadelphia, PA in June 1931.

Elijah J. McCoy was an African American inventor who obtained over 50 patents in his lifetime. McCoy was born in Canada in 1844, the son of slaves who had escaped from Kentucky. When he was very young McCoy had shown mechanical aptitude and so at age 15 his parents sent him to Scotland to learn mechanical engineering. After completing his training abroad, he returned to the U.S.

Though McCoy was very qualified, doors to jobs as an engineer were shut to him because of his race. Eventually he took a job working for the Michigan Central Railroad where he shoveled coal into train engines and applied oil to the moving parts. It was doing this sort of work that he figured out solutions to the problems trains had with keeping parts lubricated. On July 23, 1872 he patented his invention of a lubricating device for steam engines (U.S. Patent No.129,843). This device became a very important part of the industry and there were many who tried to imitate McCoy’s invention. So sought after was this device that owning the real one was referred to as having “the real McCoy.” It is also worth noting that in 2012, the USPTO opened the Elijah J. McCoy Midwest Regional U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in Detroit, Michigan.




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