By: Shontavia Johnson, Drake University

PatentedAmerica has long been the land of innovation. More than 13,000 years ago, the Clovis people created what many call the “first American invention” – a stone tool used primarily to hunt large game. This spirit of American creativity has persisted through the millennia, through the first American patent granted in 1641 and on to today.

One group of prolific innovators, however, has been largely ignored by history: black inventors born or forced into American slavery. Though U.S. patent law was created with color-blind language to foster innovation, the patent system consistently excluded these inventors from recognition.

As a law professor and a licensed patent attorney, I understand both the importance of protecting inventions and the negative impact of being unable to use the law to do so. But despite patents being largely out of reach to them throughout early U.S. history, both slaves and free African-Americans did invent and innovate.


Toyota is looking to propel the future of the fuel cell vehicle with the recent announcement that they will be granting royalty-free use to thousands of their patents.

“I’m happy and extremely proud to announce to you today that Toyota will grant royalty-free use of all 5,680 of our fuel cell patents, including pending patents,” said Senior Vice President of Toyota’s Automotive Operations, Bob Carter, on January 5 at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES).

The patents are to be used by companies manufacturing and selling fuel cell vehicles. Carter stated that these patents – which are critical to the development and production of fuel cells vehicles – will be available through 2020.


Patents, Open Source and Open Access

TeslaOn June 12, Tesla announced that it would no longer initiate patent lawsuits against anyone using their technology in good faith. Tesla CEO, Elon Musk, wrote this about the removal of patents from a wall in their Palo Alto lobby, “they have been removed, in the spirit of the open source movement, for the advancement of electric vehicle technology.”

Musk went on to state,

We believe that Tesla, other companies making electric cars, and the world would all benefit from a common, rapidly-evolving technology platform. Technology leadership is not defined by patents, which history has repeatedly shown to be small protection indeed against a determined competitor, but rather by the ability of a company to attract and motivate the world’s most talented engineers. We believe that applying the open source philosophy to our patents will strengthen rather than diminish Tesla’s position in this regard.

Bravo to Tesla! ECS shares similar values and launched author choice open access earlier this year. Some of our reasons for committing to open access closely parallel Mr. Musk’s remarks: the need to accelerate research, technology and innovation. A recent evaluation suggested that close to 65% of ECS technical content involves the sustainability of our planet. By opening access to the latest findings, ECS believes we can better support innovative research, reach new audiences, and enable faster scientific breakthroughs.

For more than 110 years the ECS mission has been to disseminate scientific information to the widest possible audience. Our vision for the future remains true to this goal, and expands upon it by creating uninhibited availability of ECS content through open access – an initiative that democratizes the science and hopefully, accelerates scientific progress.