Attorneys and Innovators: Recognizing African Americans who led the way

Black History Month is an opportunity to acknowledge, highlight and celebrate the achievements of African Americans and the profound impact they have made in America. The legal industry and the history of invention offers a glimpse into the brilliance, creativity, and fortitude of Black Americans. Below is a sampling of some of these achievements, but it is by no means an exhaustive list. Quinn IP Law recognizes and commemorates these celebrated individuals who paved the way for so many today.

  • Macon Bolling Allen (born Allen Macon Bolling; August 4, 1816 – October 15, 1894) is believed to be the first African American to become a lawyer and to argue before a jury, and the second to hold a judicial position in the United States.  Allen passed the bar exam in 1844 and became a Massachusetts Justice of the Peace in 1848.
  • Charlotte E. Ray was the first black female lawyer in the United States. She studied at the Institution for the Education of Colored Youth in Washington, D.C., and went on to teach and study law at Howard University. Upon admission to the District of Columbia bar in 1872, Ray became not only the first woman admitted to practice in the District of Columbia but also the first black woman licensed to practice law in the United States.
  • Thurgood Marshall was the first African American justice on the Supreme Court, serving from 1967-1991. After studying law at Howard University, Marshall went on to serve as counsel to the NAACP.
  • Jane Bolin was the first African American female judge in the United States. She earned her J.D. degree at Yale Law School in 1931, where she was also the first African-American woman to graduate.
  • In 2003, Melvin C. Garner became the first African American president of the New York Intellectual Property Law Association. In 2005, he became the first African American president of the American Intellectual Property Law Association (AIPLA).
  • James Donald Smith was the first Chief Judge of the federal Patent Trial and Appeal Board, and is now Chief Intellectual Property Counsel at Ecolab Inc.

The Patent Act was one of the first pieces of legislation passed by the first U.S. Congress in 1790, and it revolutionized the global patent landscape. The very first U.S. patent was granted in 1790.

  • Thomas Jennings became the first black inventor to receive a U.S. patent for his dry-cleaning methods in 1821.
  • Martha Jones, who is the first known black woman to obtain a U.S. patent, obtained one for her “Improvement to the Corn Husker, Sheller” in 1868.
  • George Washington Carver was the first African American inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 1990.  As a successful scientist, Carver invented countless methods and products which could have been patented, but Carver only patented three of his inventions.