Monday, June 6, 2022
Exposing the Patent Archives as an Inaccurate Record of US Invention When Viewed Through the Lens of the Black Woman
Kara Swanson, Inventing While a Black Woman: Passing and the Patent Archive, 25 Stanford Tech. L. Rev. (forthcoming)
This Article uses historical methodology to reframe persistent race and gender gaps in patent rates as archival silences. Gaps are absences, positioning the missing as failed non-participants. By centering Black women and letting the silences fill with whispered stories, this Article upends our understanding of the patent archive as an accurate record of US invention and reveals powerful truths about the creativity, accomplishments, and patent savviness of Black women and others excluded from the status of “inventor.” Exposing the patent system as raced and gendered terrain, it argues that marginalized inventors participated in invention and patenting by situational passing. It rewrites the legal history of the true inventor doctrine to include the unappreciated ways in which white men used false non-inventors to receive patents as a convenient form of assignment. It argues that marginalized inventors adopted this practice, risking the sanction of patent invalidity, to avoid bias and stigma in the patent office and the marketplace. The Article analyzes patent passing in the context of the legacy of slavery and coverture that constrained all marginalized inventors. Passing, while an act of creative adaptation, also entailed loss. Individual inventors gave up the public status of inventor and also, often, the full value of their inventions. Cumulatively, the practice amplified the patent gaps, systematically overrepresenting white men and thus reinforcing the biases marginalized inventors sought to avoid. The Article further argues that false inventors were used as a means of appropriating the inventions of marginalized inventors. This research provides needed context to the current effort to remedy patent gaps. Through its intersectional approach, it also brings patent law into broader conversations about how law has supported systemic racism and sexism and contributed to societal inequality.