Did you know that the inventor who made light bulbs a household item for everyday Americans was Black? Lewis Latimer created a method of producing carbon filaments that made light bulbs cheaper and more efficient. Without his invention, Thomas Edison’s light bulb would have been available only to those with extreme wealth. Most people know of Edison, but Latimer’s contribution to American history has largely gone unnoticed. Historically, women and minority inventors have struggled to get the scientific community to give them the credit they deserve. However, one organization is working to change that. The National Academy of Inventors (NAI) encourages the growth and development of academic inventors. The only way to do so, the organization understands, is by highlighting the diverse minds who have been there all along.
“Unfortunately, throughout American history, white male inventors have dominated the narrative. The National Academy of Inventors is working to change that,” said Jamie Renee, Executive Director at the NAI.
The NAI is an association of leading thinkers from universities, government agencies, and non-profit research organizations — both in the United States and internationally. Combined, members of the NAI hold over 40 Nobel Prizes, 42,700 patents, and 13,000 licensed technologies and companies. The organization is made up of some of the industry’s brightest minds, encompassing the best in innovation and academic research.
One of the NAI’s main goals is to inspire and assist the next generation of academic inventors from diverse backgrounds.
“Lack of access, resources, and critical support are just some of the issues underrepresented groups face. The National Academy of Inventors wants to address those barriers and create a culture where their research and inventions are protected,” Renee said.
Making Academic Inventing More Accessible
For the National Academy of Inventors, diversity and inclusion in the academic inventing space starts with listening and allowing women, minorities, veterans, and individuals with disabilities to lead the organization in its diversity mission.
“We are starting from a place of curiosity and a desire to discover what is currently unknown to us. To do that, we have launched a marketing analysis focused on hearing from those underrepresented populations, in their words, what goals they have and what challenges they are experiencing in the invention ecosystem,” Renee explained.
One of the biggest barriers for underrepresented inventors is applying for patents to protect their intellectual property. The current process can be daunting, leaving many unsure of how to take the first step.
“The current patent system is a challenge to navigate,” Renee stated. “That’s why the National Academy of Inventors is excited to enter a five-year agreement with the United States Patent and Trademark Office to help bridge the gap for historically underrepresented groups. We’re connecting young inventors with the resources they need, including mentoring through our virtual Scholar Share webinars and GAIN platform.”
Every year, the NAI gets together for its annual meeting to celebrate the present and future of innovation. The 2022 conference, which will be held from June 14-15 in Phoenix, Arizona, at the Sheraton Grand at Wild Horse Pass, will focus on “Defining the Future: Inventing for Tomorrow.” Sessions will explore topics like innovating for future generations, educating and inspiring future inventors, as well as matters regarding diversity, equity, and inclusion in innovation.
“Some of what we will create and launch is yet to be discovered and will be identified in collaboration with universities and non-profits that aim to reach and engage individuals,” said Renee. “The conference is intended to act as a great starting point for these kinds of conversations.”
“We Must Create Inclusive Cultures”
While the conference will hold panels on an array of topics, another important event is the induction of NAI Fellows. The NAI membership nominates and elects these distinguished researchers to recognize their outstanding contributions to society through innovation. This year’s Fellow class is the most diverse in the NAI’s history.
“It is not enough for us to focus on diversity, we must create inclusive cultures — cultures that foster the sense of belonging,” Renee clarified. “Belonging is a critical condition necessary to increase the chances that each inventor is able to show up and show off their full potential.”
For Renee and the leadership at the organization, spotlighting inventors from all walks of life is critical in creating an inclusive culture. In addition, supporting STEM education from pre-k onward is another key component.
“We have to make sure we’re encouraging curiosity very early on for children. That’s why we’re so honored to have some great Fellows who are doing just this,” said Renee. “One of our 2022 Fellows, Dr. Karen Panetta, is the founder of Nerd Girls, an international outreach program that encourages girls to pursue STEM careers.”
The NAI is making great strides to encourage future generations of diverse thinkers to excel in academic inventing. With a community that enables them to innovate and resources to protect their intellectual property, innovators from all backgrounds will be empowered to shape the future.
“In order to ensure society has the best chance of addressing the challenges we face today such as climate change and Covid,” Renee said, “we must leverage the collective brainpower of humanity and look at things from a multitude of perspectives and lived experiences.”