Washington – Black History Month, held each year during the month of February, celebrates African American cultures and heritage and recognizes the many contributions African Americans have made to this nation.

In conjunction with Black History Month, the Department of Commerce’s United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) is recognizing some very special African Americans whose inventions have made a great contribution in making this country the most technologically advanced nation in the world.

Granville T. Woods, born in Columbus, Ohio in 1856, was known as the “Black Edison.” During his lifetime he received over 30 patents and successfully fought suits brought against him by Thomas Edison for the rights to certain electrical inventions, including railway telegraphy (patent no. 388,803), which allowed dispatchers to communicate by telegraph and warn train engineers of oncoming trains. Another of Wood’s better-known inventions is the air brake (patent no. 701,981).

Ivan Yaeger, who was born and still resides in Miami, received patent no. 4,685,928 for an artificial arm and hand assembly in 1987. This revolutionary prosthetic arm is designed to move drive motors to a level that improves range, variety, and speed of motion, and allows for better toleration by the wearer.

Dr. Patricia Bath, an ophthalmologist from New York, but living in Los Angeles when she received her patent, became the first African American woman doctor to receive a patent for a medical invention. Dr. Bath’s patent (no. 4,744,360), a method for removing cataract lenses, transformed eye surgery, using a laser device making the procedure more accurate.

Dr. James West, born in 1931 in Prince Edward County, Va., received patent no. 3,118,022 in 1964 (while an employee at Bell Laboratories), along with Gerhard Sessler, for the electroacoustic transducer, an electret microphone, which offered greater reliability, higher precision, lower cost and smaller size. The electret microphone revolutionized the microphone industry, with almost one billion manufactured each year. West and Sessler were inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 1999.

These patents, as well as the more than six million patents issued since the first in 1790 and the 2.3 million trademarks registered since 1870, can be seen on the Department of Commerce’s U.S. Patent and Trademark Office Web site at www.uspto.gov. Last year USPTO issued 187,824 patents and registered 102,314 trademarks.

“Minority Inventors: America’s Tapestry of Innovation,” a video produced by the USPTO that tells the story of minority inventors of the past and the present, is available from the agency’s Office of Public Affairs (703/305-8341).

Credit USPTO, by Kim Byars