Patent Racism: Unseen Hands That Stifled Black Innovation in Modern History

Lisa D. Cook, a Professor of Economics and International Relations at Michigan State University has conducted influential research on the connections between violence, economic activity, and racial disparities. In 2014, she published “Violence and Economic Activity: Evidence from African American Patents, 1870 to 1940,” which revealed how political conflict and domestic terrorism negatively affected the ability of African American inventors to obtain patents during that time period.

Cook’s insights extend beyond her written work. In 2020, Cook was featured in the episode “Patent Racism” on Planet Money, an economics podcast from NPR, Cook discussed the broader economic and social implications of racial disparities in the patent industry for Black Americans, where she argues the concept of “big theory innovation,” and the concept that if the US makes strong patent laws, innovation will come. However, this idea is not true for Black Americans. Cook further addressed these themes in her presentation at the Bendheim Center for Finance at Princeton University, delving into the economic and social consequences of racial disparities in the U.S., with a focus on how violence hinders innovation among Black Americans.