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An uptick in patents from historically Black colleges

May 14, 2019, 7:50 PM UTC

You can’t leverage what you don’t measure, right?

That’s the big takeaway from this recent piece from ThePLUG, an innovative media outlet that brings data and fresh thinking to their reporting on Black innovation in tech. They’ve been measuring some interesting things lately.

RaceAhead has amplified their stories before, like these two published with Vice’s Motherboard channel, charting the rise of Black-owned co-working spaces and how Black tech conferences are influencing a less-than-diverse ecosystem.

But this one caught my eye because it seems like a smart and overlooked strategy for investors in search of good ideas: Turns out, Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) have been cranking out more of them lately.

ThePlug’s data team analyzed information found in the United States Patent & Trademark Office’s (USPTO) database of patents granted at historically Black colleges and universities, which contains information from 1978-2012. Then they did additional research to update the dataset through 2019.

Come to find out, there’s been a significant uptick in new patents generated by a larger number of HBCUs since 2010:

The data shows that in the past decade HBCUs have seen a proliferation of new intellectual property. Overall, a total of 30 different HBCUs own patent rights. Morehouse School of Medicine currently holds the most patents of any HBCU with a total of 63 granted between 2000 to 2019. Howard University and Florida Agricultural and Technical University hold 53 and 41 patents, respectively.

And while endowment size typically equals innovation, that’s not always the case.

“Morehouse School of Medicine, for example, has a comparatively small endowment of $56 million, however, the institution produced the most patents of any HBCU,” explains Anisa Holmes. “On the other hand, Spelman College, which boasts an endowment of $389 million, has only produced eight patents over the last four decades.”

The trend line is good news for a variety of reasons.

For one, there are fewer HBCUs now, and many are struggling in an environment of reduced funding, diminishing applicant pools and dwindling endowments. And while IP creation is an important source of income for any university, HBCUs have been granted fewer patents than their Primarily White Institution (PWI) counterparts in the past. “While the financial gains of patents are significant, the rewards are generally reaped by a few elite Universities,” says Holmes.

Let’s hope the trend continues.

This is information I haven’t seen elsewhere, though I suppose it’s possible that Primarily White Venture Capital firms (PWVCs) are tracking innovation at HBCUs and not making the information publicly available.

But now it is! Click through to download ThePlug’s full HBCU patent database to learn more about the HoBE. (History of Black Excellence.)


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We, the colored men of the North, put the laboring oar in your hand; it is for white men to show that they are equal to the demands of these times, by putting away their stupid prejudices.
—Jonathan Clarkson Gibbs, II, author of the legislation creating the State Normal College for Colored Students, forerunner of Florida A&M University..

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