Janeya Griffin Advocates Before Congress For African American Patents And IP To Build Generational Wealth

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Written by Dana Sanchez
Janeya Griffin
Janeya Griffin wants to increase representation in patenting and commercialization. She’s blowing away a system that historically was not built for Black people.

Janeya Griffin aka The Commercialzer wants to increase representation in patenting and commercialization but she’s up against a system that historically was not built for Black people to participate or succeed.

“For decades, our country’s laws have placed (African Americans) in positions where they have had to choose their life over their IP, even at one point being considered property themselves,” Griffin said on Jan. 15 while testifying before the Congressional Committee on Small Business.

An advocate for intellectual property, Griffin manages and sells NASA’s IP and does advocacy work for Black innovators and innovators of color. This, she said, allows her to speak to the issues facing the country’s patent and commercialization process.

Griffin testified on the topic, “Enhancing Patent Diversity for America’s Innovators”. She offered suggestions on how to close the gap in the patent and commercialization system between whites, Black people and people of color.

In 1710, the Meritorious Manumission Act gave slave owners the right to grant their slaves freedom in exchange for their inventions. The systemic issues faced by Black people in the patent and commercialization systems for decades has not only created the diversity gap but has continued to sustain it.

Janeya Griffin, The Commercializer, testifying before Congress, Jan. 15

Griffin’s company, The Commercializer LLC, helps entrepreneurs, startups and corporations monetize their intellectual assets. She does technology commercialization assessments including feasibility and market studies, business strategy and roadmaps to commercialization.

As a STEM student at an HBCU, Griffin was one of 14 students chosen from 100 applicants around the U.S. for a fellowship program called the Integrated Technology Transfer Network, funded by the Navy. The fellows were moved to California where they learned to translate technical language into a value proposition that business people could understand.

Due to budget cuts, the program was defunded in 2011.

Griffin asked Congress to fund more certificate programs like the one she went through. “We must invest in education, access and equity at the highest level in the most marginalized communities which will ensure this great nation retains its economic vitality,” she said.

Below is a transcript of Griffin’s testimony before Congress. You can read her longer official transcript statement here. Listen to the full one-hour-20-minute hearing here.

“It is so important for our community to even just begin having the dialogue about the importance of intellectual property and to begin to see the opportunity they have to use it and leverage it build generational wealth,” Griffin said via email to The Moguldom Nation

Janeya Griffin, The Commercializer: Testimony before Congress

Good morning. Thank you for this opportunity to discuss increasing diversity within our patent and commercialization system. I am honored to be here with you today.  

My name is Janeya Griffin — The Commercializer — and I am an advocate for intellectual property. The first time that I truly learned about the value of patents was not in grade school or even college. Not in history books that were part of any “common core” curriculum that I was taught. It was only after college when I met professors who had patents, who looked like me, did I believe that it was possible to obtain one.

Before becoming an advocate for IP, I was a STEM Graduate from Grambling State University. The dean of my college recognized the entrepreneur in me and encouraged me to apply for a fellowship program called the Integrated Technology Transfer Network. Funded by the Department of Navy through Earmarks, it took STEM students from HBCUs and taught us the business side of things so we could speak and understand the technical language, then translate that into a value proposition that business people could understand.

For decades, our country’s laws have placed minorities in positions where they have had to choose their life over their IP, even at one point being considered property themselves.

Janeya Griffin, The Commercializer, testifying before Congress, Jan. 15

Unfortunately, before we can begin to think we can solve the diversity gap, we must first understand how it came to be. For decades, our country’s laws have placed minorities in positions where they have had to choose their life over their IP, even at one point being considered property themselves.

Economist Dr. Lisa Cooks discusses the correlation of declining minority patents during the jim crow and race riot era. (Cooks estimated that there were about 1,100 missing patents during this period.) By receiving a certification in Entrepreneurial Technology Commercialization, I was able to learn the true value and functionality of IP and work on tech transfer projects from several federal labs where I evaluated patents to determine their commercial potential. Today, I manage and sell NASA’s IP.

Having said that, I am a Black woman with a very unique set of skills and only have the knowledge about the patent and commercialization system, because I went through a very specialized program that targeted STEM students from HBCUs. This program has created inventors, small business owners, and even directors of SBA funded programs. The advocacy work I do for innovators of color allows me to speak to what I see may be the issues that the country’s patent and commercialization process are facing. 

My story about patents is not unique. I have surveyed my colleagues, clients, and professionals within this space and the sentiments are mostly the same. Many of them, even those who are patent attorneys, only learned about the value of IP when they reached grad school or as they were assigning their ownership rights to their IP over to their soon-to-be employer.

Research shows Black inventors received six patents per million people, compared to 235 of their white counterparts. So if you combined 13 of the nation’s NFL stadiums, only six of those seats would be given to African Americans.

It is clear that even with the invention of the internet, there are still huge exposure gaps in education when it comes to people of color seeing the contributions of people that look like them in the history books we are learning from. We should be highlighting and elevating inventors such as Marian Croak, a Black woman with almost 200 patents, who has a proven track record of success in this field to serve as a nationwide ambassador for patent attainment.

The diversity gap in patents is not just an inclusion issue. It’s also an exposure-to-generational-wealth-through-patent-commercialization-and-access issue. And if exposure to generational wealth can be passed down through generations, then so can exposure to generational trauma. In 1710 the same holds true. The Meritorious Manumission Act gave slave owners the right to grant their slaves freedom in exchange for their inventions. Hence, the systemic issues faced by minorities in the patent and commercialization systems for decades has not only created the diversity gap, but has continued to sustain it. 

How, can we expect to increase diversity in patenting and commercialization if historically the system has not been built for minorities to participate or succeed in general? 

Only collecting vanity metrics, such as demographics of the inventor, is not going to close the diversity gap. In fact, we should be asking how many of those six patents per million people are actually small business owners, as ownership of a patent by a small business generates 16 new jobs, that’s 16 more opportunities for minorities and returning citizens.

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The success of this great nation is not only dependent on our ability to invest in proven programs, pathways and institutions which make room for a greater number of inventors, but also on how we tell the true story of the contributions of women and minorities in almost every sector of the American economy. 

Why not fund more certificate programs like the one I went through?

If we are truly focused on increasing the diversity of patents, we must invest in education, access and equity at the highest level in the most marginalized communities which will ensure this great nation retains its economic vitality.

My name is Janeya Griffin, HBCU graduate, IP advocate and proud Black woman.

Thank you for your time.