As World IP Day 2021 approaches, we should celebrate the incredible achievements of the world’s greatest inventors. But throughout our country’s history, scores of inventors, particularly African Americans, have been systematically excluded from reaping the benefits of intellectual property protection for their work, and many of those who found success have been forgotten. On World IP Day 2021, let us celebrate the contributions of Black inventors who all too often get overlooked.

The earliest known Black patentee is Thomas L. Jennings, who in 1821 received a patent for a dry-cleaning process. The second known Black patentee, Henry Blair, received a patent for a “Seed-Planter” in 1834 and a “Cotton-Planter” in 1836. Interestingly, patent records identify Blair as “colored”—the only known instance of the patent office taking notice of the patentee’s race. In 1846, Norbert Rillieux received a patent for a multiple-effect vacuum evaporator for producing sugar from sugar cane juice, which became the standard method of sugarcane juice evaporation.

Ahmed Davis of Fish & Richardson. Ahmed Davis of Fish & Richardson. Courtesy photo