Black History Month is an opportunity to reflect on the challenges, achievements and contributions of African Americans throughout our history. One oft-overlooked area of Black history is the contributions of African Americans to America’s innovation economy. Despite their remarkable ingenuity, African Americans long have been underrepresented among patent holders. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office does not collect demographic information from patent applications. However, a 2010 study estimated that between 1976 and 2008, African American inventors obtained just six patents per million people, compared with 235 per million for all U.S. inventors.

While African Americans have never been expressly barred from applying for patents, the patent oath historically effected the same result.

History of the Patent Oath