Patently Strategic Podcast: James Howard and the Black Inventors Hall of Fame

What would you have been without a role model? What would you have done had you not known your career path was even an option? The answers to these career and life-defining questions often come down to exposure, access, and whether or not we could picture ourselves doing something in the first place. I doubt there are many readers on here who are not regularly awe-inspired by the incredible work of the inventors we’re fortunate to know and serve. There are few nobler or more important professions. While we already know this and possibly take that knowledge for granted, our future depends on as many kids as possible – from as many backgrounds as possible – being inspired by, and personally identifying with, this world-shaping path. Our special guest in this month’s episode of Patently Strategic, James Howard, is taking on that challenge.

What They See, They Will Be

James Howard is the Executive Director of the Black Inventors Hall of Fame. His wide-ranging background includes experience as a college professor, design historian, entrepreneur, industrial designer, inventor, filmmaker, and restauranteur. Howard is an accomplished inventor with 20 patents, several of which we discuss cover innovations that save people’s lives daily.

His life’s work is now culminating in his mission of bringing a broad and detailed awareness to the important work of African American inventors, artists, and innovators who have inspired and forged ahead against tremendous odds and adversity. In creating the Black Inventors Hall of Fame, James hopes to have a place where kids of all ages and persuasions can go and be inspired to become the next generation of scientists, engineers, doctors, and inventors. Like Lonnie Johnson (inventor of the Super Soaker) says in one of Howard’s documentaries we discuss, “What they see, they will be.”

Episode Overview

James and I cover a wide range of topics, including:

  • His origin story as an inventor and how his inventions are inspiring his grandkids on their own innovation journeys.
  • The genesis and motivation for the Black Inventors Hall of Fame.
  • What advice he gives to those newer to inventing.
  • Biggest learnings from the greats featured in his Black Inventors Got Game
  • What we should be doing to support and inspire today’s youth and the next generation of inventors.
  • In honor of Black History Month, we discuss some black inventors whose inventions help shape daily life but aren’t yet household names.

BIHOF Origin Story

The Black Inventors Hall of Fame is presently a virtual museum and serves as a platform for telling the story of talented African American innovators. Once Howard’s vision is completely realized (slated for 2026), the Hall of Fame will be a 38,000-square-foot facility and the only museum in the country dedicated exclusively to immortalizing the pioneering genius of African American inventors from the past 400 years.

The idea’s genesis stems from two significant moments when Howard realized that too many important stories were going untold. The first time was standing in line at a supermarket and picking up a Time Magazine special issue called America’s Top 100 Inventors. He saw all the faces you’d expect to see on the cover, but while flipping through the list inside, he couldn’t find a single black inventor. This stuck with him and bothered him deeply for the following four years. Flash forward to the opening of the National Museum of African American History and Culture in DC. Obama’s there, celebrities are there, and all sorts of public officials are all praising the museum. And for three hours, the storyline is about acknowledging the enslaved past, the Civil Rights past, the sports past, and the entertainment past, but not a single word is mentioned about the illustrious inventive and innovation past. He was determined that night to do something about it. He was soon at work, laying the foundation for the Black Inventors Hall of Fame.

The Generational Spark 

Beyond inventing critical life-saving technologies like the first ever single-use, disposable neonatal pressure relief valve and a host of cardiovascular delivery systems, James has several inventions in his portfolio that you might see at any public business, including products ranging from the paper towel dispensers used at most Dunkin’ Donuts locations across the country to the first-ever access control lock featuring a manual override. While visiting his daughter in Pennsylvania for Thanksgiving, he took his grandkids out for their first Christmas gift of the season and spotted his patented access control lock at a Barnes & Noble. After getting a quick picture with the kids (who didn’t know Grandpa was an inventor), they all became engrossed with curiosity and questions about what it meant to invent. The story that follows is incredibly heartwarming, will culminate soon in a pitch competition for a brand-new board game, and serves as an exceptional example of the inspiration that can happen when you make invention tangible.

Mossoff Minute: Masimo v. Apple and the Media

In this month’s Mossoff Minute, Professor Adam Mossoff discusses how there’s a pirate living in your Apple Watch and why the media’s coverage of Apple’s predatory infringement of Masimo’s patents is missing the mark. We’re also publishing excerpts as short-form videos on Instagram Reels, YouTube Shorts, and TikTok.

Related Listening and Reading

To further explore the topics discussed, see the following past episodes and resources:

  • Black Inventors Hall of Fame. A virtual museum (soon to be physical) that serves as a platform for telling the story of talented African American innovators.
  • BIGG documentary: The Gathering. James Howard’s documentary about four African American inventors and their groundbreaking contributions to the toy and game industry.
  • Tech Boy. 12-year-old DeJuan Strickland wrote the book James mentioned to encourage youth by showing them the superpowers of STEM.
  • Inventor Stories Vol. 1. This episode with James is our second (of many more to come!) focused on inventor stories. The first features a sit down with three very innovative, up-and-coming inventors, all winners of our annual RISE Award.



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