Centering Black Women in Patent History

Jessica Silbey, Boston University School of Law


Professor Kara Swanson’s latest article is a remarkable example of legal historical scholarship that excavates stories from the past to illuminate the present. It is chock full of archival evidence and historical analysis that explains gaps and silences in the United States patent registry as evidence of marginalized inventors–particularly Black women–who should be named inventors but are not.

The article is arresting reading for anyone interested in antebellum history, intellectual property, and the intersection of racism and sexism in law. Mostly, I am grateful to Professor Swanson for doing the obviously very hard work of digging through archives, reading microfiche, and scouring other primary and secondary sources for what she calls the “whispers” of Black women inventors of our past whose stories need to be told to change the narrative of U.S. inventorship.