Meet the First African American Woman to Hold a Patent for a Natural Hair Product
Entrepreneurship

Meet the First African American Woman to Hold a Patent for a Natural Hair Product

headshot of Gwen Jimmere, founder of Naturalicious
Gwen Jimmere, founder of Naturalicious hair products and winner of the 2014 Black Enterprise Elevator Pitch Competition
Jimmere with Black Enterprise SVP, Editor-at-Large Alfred Edmond Jr.

When it comes to wealth building, owning a patent puts you in a whole other league. That means something you’ve created is proprietary, you legally own the rights to it, and if someone comes along and tries to profit off of what you created without your consent, you have the right to take them to court for infringing on your patent.

It also provides a lot of control for you as the entrepreneur and it provides a lot of leverage, as well. Let’s say you decide to sell your company. If you have a patent, especially if it’s something that has a large customer base already, you can sell your patent at a premium separately from your company, since the purchasing party can’t sell what you own in any way without your approval. Or you can continue to keep the patent and license your invention to the purchasing party, requiring that you are paid a royalty for every unit sold. You can do the same even if you don’t sell your company; you can license your invention to other companies, and still sell your product also. There are also other creative options you can negotiate. But having that patent gives you those options.

This is vital to building generational wealth, which is something our community struggles with immensely. We’ve got to start owning our ideas and our inventions, not just complaining when someone comes along and tries to profit off of us.

Tell us about the patent process? 
Applying for the patent was super intimidating. It can be very difficult to go through the patent process, let alone to get one granted. In the 21st century, there aren’t a whole lot of literally brand new inventions being created; so they don’t just hand patents out. Many apply, but very few are granted. It’s also very scary because it’s expensive. Applying for a patent on your own can cost between $550 and $2,000; using a patent attorney can cost upwards of $10,000 or more. (And get this: if you apply and don’t get the patent granted to you, you don’t get that money back! So yes, it is definitely something that should not be taken lightly). I opted for the less expensive choice, but that also meant that I had no guidance, and it literally took me months just to finish the application. I have no legal background, so I was in this all on my own. I became best friends with the librarians near me because I spent so much time researching what I needed to do, how I needed to best present my invention, what to do if the Patent Office initially denied me, etc. Once I applied, there was about a 15 month waiting period until I found out they were going to issue me the patent.

What advice would you give to an entrepreneur who’s considering applying for a patent?
When considering if a patent is right for you, first you need to understand the difference in all intellectual property types. Go to uspto.gov and familiarize yourself with the difference between patents, trademarks, and copyrights. Once you’ve determined that a patent is what you want to go for, do your due diligence to make sure there isn’t another invention similar to yours that is already available on the market. There’s no sense in spending a lot of money or time on something that doesn’t stand a chance of getting approved, so be sure to do your homework first, because your patent is a lot less likely to be granted if a product like yours exists.


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