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


Engineer showing equipment to a female apprentice, close upLadas & 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 honored 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


Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett (1986-Present)

Born on January 26, 1986 in Hurdle Mills North Carolina, Dr. Corbett is a viral immunologist at the Vaccine Research Center at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (“NIAID”), National Institute of Health. She received her B.S. in biological sciences and sociology from the University of Maryland (Baltimore) as a Myerhoff Scholar. Dr. Corbett received her PhD in microbiology and immunology from the University Of North Carolina (Chapel Hill). This impressive millennial and scientific pioneer was only 34 years old when she was appointed the scientific lead of the Vaccine Research Center’s Coronavirus Team in 2020. The world renowned director of the NIAID, Dr. Anthony Fauci, tellingly stated on CBS News in December 2020 that “the vaccine you are going to be taking was developed by an African American woman and that is just a fact”. Dr. Corbett partnered with Moderna, a biotechnology company, with the development of the Moderna vaccine in record time, thanks in no small part to Dr. Corbett’s assistance. Dr. Corbett’s contributions during a historic global pandemic must be celebrated for her obvious scientific achievement, but perhaps more so for saving millions of lives in the U.S. and throughout the world!

Percy Julian (1899–1975)

Percy Julian was an African American chemist and a pioneer in the synthesis of medicinal drugs. He was born on April 11, 1899 in Alabama and overcame many obstacles.

Even though there was no local high school that allowed black students to enroll near him, he was accepted to DePauw University, where he graduated Phi Betta Kappa. He received a scholarship from Harvard, where he obtained his Master’s degree and obtained his PhD from the University of Vienna in Austria in 1931. In 1935 he earned international acclaim for synthesizing physostigmine from the colaba bean to create a drug treatment for glaucoma. He also discovered how to extract sterols from soy bean oil to synthesize the hormones testosterone and progesterone. He was also recognized for his synthesis of cortisone, which was used to treat rheumatoid arthritis.

Despite his achievements, Dr. Julian’s house was burned down in the Midwest by racists who opposed his family living in a white neighborhood. Dr. Julian would not be deterred and continued to excel in the scientific arena and became a very successful and wealthy man. He was the first chemist elected to the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 1973 and in 1999 the American Chemical Society recognized his synthesis of physostigmine as “one of the top 25 achievements in the history of American chemists”. Dr. Julian’s remarkable life was the subject of a documentary film made in PBS’ Nova series – titled “Forgotten Genius”.

Mark E. Dean (1957–Present)

Mr. Dean is an inventor and computer engineer and was born on March 3, 1957 in Jefferson City, Tennessee. Mr. Dean was part of the team that developed the ISA BUS and he led a design team that developed the first one gigahertz computer processor chip. He holds three of the nine patents for being the co-creator of the IBM personal computer released in 1981.

Sarah E. Goode (1850–1905)

Sarah E. Goode was an African American entrepreneur and inventor. Ms. Goode was likely born around 1850, the same year the Fugitive Slave Act was enacted. She grew up in Toledo, Ohio, but not much is known about her very early life. It is unclear whether she was born into slavery or not. In any event, her parents moved the family to Chicago. She is widely considered to be the first African American woman to be granted a Federal patent by the United States Patent and Trademark Office. On July 14, 1885, Ms. Goode received Patent no. 322,177, for her invention of a folding bed that would convert into a cabinet when not in use for sleeping. Many described her invention as the precursor to the famous Murphy Bed. Today, the Sarah E. Goode Science, Technology, Engineering and Math Academy in Chicago is named after her.

Thomas L. Jennings (1791–1856)

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.

Marie Curie (1867-1934)

Marie Curie was born in Poland in 1867. Curie was unable to seek traditional higher education in Poland because she was a woman; instead, she attended a “Flying University” – a clandestine and illegal university open to men and women. In 1891, Curie left Poland for Paris, studying physics, chemistry, and mathematics at the Sorbonne, where she pioneered research on radioactivity.
Curie, working with her husband Pierre, developed a method for isolating radioactive (a term she coined) material, which led to their discovery of the elements polonium and radium in 1898. Curie also championed the use of radium as a treatment for cancer after discovering that radium destroyed diseased cells faster than healthy cells. The Curies chose not to patent their process for isolating radioactive material or radium’s medical applications, believing that others should be able to use them for the advancement of science and benefit of humanity.

In 1903, Marie Curie became the first woman to win a Nobel Prize, in Physics for research on radiation phenomena. She received the prize jointly with her husband Pierre and shared with Henri Becquerel. Initially only Pierre Curie and Henri Becquerel were nominated for the prize, but after being advised of Marie’s exclusion, Pierre wrote to the Nobel Committee that “a Nobel Prize for research in radioactivity that failed to acknowledge Marie’s pivotal role would be a travesty.” In 1911, Marie Curie became the first person to win a Nobel Prize twice, in Chemistry for the discovery and study of the elements radium and polonium. Curie remains the only woman to win a Nobel Prize twice and the only person ever to win a Nobel Prize in two different scientific fields.

Elijah J. McCoy (1844-1929)

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.

Dr. Shirley Jackson (1946–Present)

Dr. Shirley Jackson was born in 1946 and is a theoretical physicist. Currently, she is the President of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (better known as RPI) in Troy, New York. Dr. Jackson’s research and experiments spurred advances in telecommunications and development of technologies for the invention of the portable fax, touchtone telephone, solar cells, fiber optic cables, caller id and call waiting while at AT&T Bell Laboratories. In addition to these impressive accomplishments, Dr. Jackson was also the first African American woman to graduate with a PhD from MIT and the first woman and first African American to be named as chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Dr. Jackson has received innumerable awards, including the National Medal of Science – awarded by President Obama (the nation’s highest honor for contributions in science and technology) in 2016. She has also sat on the Board of Directors of the New York Stock Exchange, IBM Corporation and FEDEX Corporation, among many others. Time Magazine called her “perhaps the ultimate role model for women in science”.


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