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The Importance of Diversity and Innovation

Tashia Bunch

The Importance of Diversity and Innovation
Koh Sze Kiat via Getty Images

The 2018 SUCCESS Act required the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) to work with the Small Business Administration (SBA) to determine the number of patents owned by women, minorities, and veterans and to provide recommendations to increase that number. A report issued in 2019 included steps the USPTO plans to take, as well as legislative recommendations. One such step by the USPTO was the launch of the National Council for Expanding American Innovation (NCEAI) initiative in fall 2020. The initiative includes representatives from private companies, academia, and government to help the agency develop a comprehensive national strategy to build a more diverse and inclusive innovation ecosystem.

As we explore ways to build this ecosystem, we must acknowledge why this is important to the country as a whole and specifically in minority communities, identify current barriers to equal access and opportunities, and provide solutions for breaking down those barriers.

We know that increasing innovation is valuable to society as a whole. This idea appears in the U.S. Constitution when it grants Congress the power to issue patents and copyrights in order to promote the progress of science and useful arts. Today, the United States promotes itself as a global leader, and continuing contributions in science, technology, engineering, arts, and math (STEAM) fields are necessary to remain in that position. Moreover, creativity and innovation often lead to new business ventures and avenues for income contributing to the national economy and job creation.

Increasing intellectual property (IP) creation and ownership in minority communities will contribute to these societal goals. It is especially important to address economic justice principles of equitable access to financial opportunities. Creativity and innovation can lead to financial freedom through IP ownership and entrepreneurship. Access to education in STEAM fields beginning as early as elementary school, as well as resources and community programs providing access information and assistance in protection and monetization, can help expand IP creation and ownership in minority communities. For that reason, we at the Institute for Intellectual Property and Social Justice (IIPSJ) strongly advocate for policies and programs providing education and access to the tools and information necessary to innovate and to monetize innovations.

IIPSJ encourages a continuing dialogue on this important topic both on the impact and value of diversity in innovation and creativity and on ways to increase diversity in STEAM fields. Earlier this year at our annual CLE program, we featured a panel presentation titled “Remembering ‘Invention of a Slave’: Patents and the Continuing Struggle for Civil Rights,” which discussed inventorship and the struggle to acquire patents in the African American community from slavery to the present. (You can view this discussion on our YouTube channel.)

We have also shared a variety of materials discussing the topic in our monthly newsletter–materials such as an NPR podcast and post detailing how conditions during the periods of post-Reconstruction and Jim Crow obliterated the legal incentives for black inventors to apply for patents and otherwise undertake innovative endeavors, along with the story of Percy Julian, a chemist who managed to innovate and acquire over 130 patents during Jim Crow. Links to these articles and more on IP and social justice are on our website at

IIPSJ will continue to engage in conversations on this topic, advocating for policy changes to serve minority communities and looking for other ways to help further the conversation and make change.

IIPSJ was established to address the social justice implications of IP law and policy both domestically and globally. IIPSJ’s broad work includes the scholarly examination of IP law from the social justice perspective; advocacy for social justice–cognizant interpretation, application, and revision of the IP law; efforts to increase the diversity of the IP legal bar; and programs to empower historically and currently disadvantaged and marginalized communities through the development, protection, use, and exploitation of IP. IIPSJ’s primary program is the annual IP and social justice CLE program, which exposes practicing attorneys to IP social justice issues, problems, and solutions, while at the same time instructing them in current developments in the law.