Almesha L. Campbell and Holly Fechner
November 2, 2022
Historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and minority-serving institutions (MSIs) are opening their doors to a new academic year against a national backdrop of ongoing pandemic challenges, the legacy of racial injustice and rising socioeconomic inequality.
These institutions hold unique potential to bridge longstanding racial and socioeconomic gaps and drive creativity nationwide to unprecedented heights. That’s why it’s time to begin thinking about their power to encourage invention and innovation.
Innovation is the lifeblood of this country. It made the United States the world’s preeminent industrial nation and spurred nearly every period of economic prosperity in our history. Innovation drives economic growth and sustains economic progress, and in so doing it raises wages, improves life expectancy and changes lives.
Here’s an example: Nwanne Onumah is a doctoral student in epidemiology at Jackson State University’s School of Public Health. Onumah has always admired inventors; she developed an interest in new technologies after volunteering with the university’s Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship and participating in two of its commercialization programs.
The lessons Onumah took away from those programs were life changing: “Now I see things differently, and my mind is now always open to the possibilities and opportunities to invent new things,” she said in response to a question about her experience.
Stories like Onumah’s remind us that adopting an inventorship mindset does not always happen instantly, and it often requires support.
A successful innovation ecosystem depends on millions of inventors taking risks to develop something new, despite the possibility of failure. But inventors generally cannot and will not take risks unless they know that they will be rewarded for their breakthroughs. Nor will they reveal their discoveries if their ideas can simply be taken from them.
That is where patents come in. Patents reward inventors for the risks they take to develop, refine and ultimately disclose their inventions by giving them the exclusive right to use and sell their inventions for a certain period.