Although the history of fiber optics includes a long list of engineers and inventors making contributions over decades, Dr. Mensah’s particular improvements to the process of making fiber optic cables dramatically improved the cost-efficiency of producing those cables, clearing the way for a much greater degree of fiber optics technologies at work in our world. In his other work, Dr. Mensah increased the practical applications of fiber optics and has also sought to improve the status of African-American inventors and historical figures, making him a particularly interesting profile subject for Black History Month.
This experience in helping Southern farmers improve the soil in their fields soon led to what was to become a passion for Carver: peanuts. While peanuts were very useful in enriching the soil with nutrients, a new problem then arose: what to do with this plentiful crop of peanuts? And having now encouraged farmers to plant more peanuts to enrich the soil, Carver felt it was his obligation to find more uses for what was now becoming an overabundant commodity. So in 1903, Carver began working in earnest on peanut science, and especially on the potential uses of peanuts. This research by Carver on peanuts made him the innovator of what eventually became a highly marketable and profitable industry now worth well in excess of $500 million.
George Washington Carver was not only a talented innovator, but was also an extremely gifted educator and scientist.
There are some who say that the number of patents Woods obtained is at least 60, may be even much higher. But from Professor Fouché’s book, I’ve only identified 45 patents for Woods which is still a pretty awesome figure. These patents may be divided into essentially 4 technology categories: (1) induction telegraphy of which there are 8 patents; (2) electrical railways of which there are 20 patents; (3) other electrical devices of which there are 13 patents; and (4) 4 patents on “other inventions” that don’t fall into any specific category. This article focuses only the first category of inventions, induction telegraphy, for which Woods is most famous for. So why is induction telegraphy important? Well…
Granville Woods is often referred as “The Black Edison.” Woods and Thomas Edison went to court twice over what were apparently invention disputes. Both times, Woods won. There’s even a story, perhaps “folklore,” that Edison asked Woods to work for him, but Woods turned down Edison’s offer. Admittedly, Edison, with close to 1100 patents to his name, is far better known than Woods. But the parallels between these two inventive giants are striking in many respects. Both were from Ohio. Each came from very humble or modest family backgrounds. Each was primarily self-taught and highly entrepreneurial. Their scientific intellect was keen and often focused on electrical technologies. The scope of their inventive discoveries was also quite varied, and extremely prolific.
One of the more indelible images of the civil rights movement are those from the Spring of 1968 as Black sanitation workers went on strike in Memphis, Tennessee holding signs that read “I am a Man,” in their fight for economic equality. (This is the reason that civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. was visiting Memphis when he was assassinated on April 4, 1968.) Now those signs should not only read “I am a Man Who Thinks,” but “I am a Man Who Thinks and My Thoughts are Valuable.” Thus, a skillful IP attorney can be a modern day civil rights attorney by aiding Blacks to create IP rights in order to preserve their exclusive right to economically exploit the fruits of their creativity.
Many may initially wonder what IP has to do with civil rights. After all, IP rights (IPR) have always been understood in terms of individual economic incentives for creating society-wide public good in the form of cultural works, like art and music, and scientific knowledge such as medicines. The interrelationship initially seems odd because, regardless of political leanings, many are turned off by any mention or use of identity politics. Yet, as one leading scholar observed, “we cannot understand intellectual property today without recognizing the identity struggles embedded within it. Intellectual property’s convergence with identity politics reveals links between cultural representation and development, which traditional economic analyses of intellectual property overlook.” Thus, I ask should IPR be the new focal point of the civil rights movement in America?