Female-secured Patents Could Boost Economy by $1 trillion

Small businesses and startup entrepreneurs are known to rely on funding from government agencies like the Small Business Administration; minority-owned businesses might turn to the Minority Business Development Agency. Kathi Vidal is pushing to have entrepreneurs consider applying for patents from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office alongside their application(s) for funding.

Vidal, who is currently serving as USPTO director, is an experienced intellectual property lawyer. A primary platform of her work in the USPTO, since her appointment by President Biden in April 2022, has been the diversification of those applying for and receiving patents. To date, only 13% of U.S. patents have been issued to women. When offered free legal guidance for the patent-application process, women-led filings increased by 41%. Vidal believes that the inclusion of women in the patenting system at equal rates as men could boost the U.S. economy by as much as $1 trillion.

According to Vidal, legal support is not the only barrier to female inclusion. The patenting system is inherently confusing and excluding. While the government views rejections as an opportunity for re-application, most applicants don’t understand. Vidal is introducing a cover letter to patent decisions, assigning an examiner who will be available for consultations and be the human face of an otherwise amorphous and overwhelming process.

Patents are a tangible way of supporting the economy and expanding business competition, particularly in growing fields like artificial intelligence and technologies. Similarly, Vidal explains that patents facilitate partnership and cooperation. Without patents, companies are resistant to sharing their ideas.

The Business of Bringing Back Businesses

Fashion Fair, the beloved cosmetics company, went bankrupt in 2018. But in June 2022, the firm, which Pulitzer prize winner Lynn Nottage said “represented Black beauty, it represented sophistication, and it was the first makeup that I ever tried on in the mirror,” was resurrected. This is part of a current economic trend in which Black businesswomen opt to revive a legacy brand rather than start a new company from scratch. In some instances, Black entrepreneurs are launching companies based on known white-owned firms that unfairly used images of Black people as part of their branding and merchandising.

Like Fashion Fair, Madam (originally known as Madam C.J. Walker), the Black hair care brand, revamped both the external elements of their products, like packaging and advertising, as well as the actual production processes. Even with these changes, Fashion Fair and Madam still focus on the shared historic mission of each company: bringing wealth, access, and prestige to Black communities, particularly women.

McKinsey study found that Black-founded and Black-owned beauty brands comprised 2.5 percent of 2021 revenue in that industry; Black consumers spent 11.1 percent, the equivalent of $6.6 billion, on beauty products. While spurred mostly by need, as a way of ensuring the employment and safety of Black Americans in the dark era of Jim Crow laws, Black-owned businesses are a historic and iconic representation of pride. Historian Juliet E.K. Walker describes the time as the “Golden Age of Black Business,” when Black-owned businesses grew across the U.S.

The newest iterations of the company are also updated for today’s consumer interests. The Madam formula, for example, has been revised to substitute petroleum, which is derived from crude oil, from the products’ hair and scalp treatment recipes.

In some instances, Black entrepreneurs are redressing historic wrongs of white-owned companies that feature images of Black domestic workers in their logos and images. Rapper and entrepreneur Percy Miller, known as Master P, restarted his Uncle P’s line of pancake mixes and rice in response to this trend. He recalls how his grandmother used to favor brands featuring Black people, but as he grew he came to realize “that Aunt Jemima and Uncle Ben were models, and none of the proceeds from these brands went back to helping the community and their families; it was just pure mockery.” In an attempt to remedy these historical injustices, Miller sources rice for his products from Ghana; some profits are earmarked for programs serving low-income children and the elderly in New Orleans and St. Louis. A picture of Miller himself, in sunglasses, is affixed on Uncle P’s products.

Chattanooga: the newest Hub of Tech, VC talent

Chattanooga at night

Chattanooga, Tennessee is one of the first American cities to have installed fiber optic cables with gigabit speeds across the entire city. While this upgrade was completed a little over 10 years ago, Mayor Tim Kelly says the pandemic brought a surge of new residents all looking for comfortable remote working spaces and quality of life.

Kelly, himself a former businessman and startup founder, credited the 2010 EPB investment in fiber optics as a forward-thinking move by previous leaders. He notes that while Chattanooga doesn’t offer financial incentives for relocation like other places, it does cultivate a vibrant cultural life and family-friendly ethos.

As a result- and specifically since the pandemic- Chattanooga has seen a new balance of tech companies and those working for them; once concentrated in major coastal cities, firms are now widely dispersed in more rural areas across the country. The Brookings Institution found that tech jobs in San Francisco, Seattle, and Los Angeles had slowed or disappeared, while regions like St. Louis, Philadelphia, San Antonio, and Nashville showed an unprecedented uptick.

Brickyard, for example, is a newly established venture fund based in Chattanooga. Cameron Doody, the co-founder, explains that as workers from traditional tech hubs swamped cities like Atlanta and Austin, residents of those cities moved to places like Chattanooga for quiet, comfort, and quality of life. Brickyard invests in international tech companies. The founders then come to headquarters in Chattanooga to rigorously expand their product and enjoy the benefits of amenities like a sauna, a gym, and a steam room.

Recycled Footwear Takes a Step Forward

Rothy’s, the American eco-friendly shoe brand, has gotten a significant investment from the owner of Havaianas. Based in San Francisco, California, and valued at $1 billion, Rothy’s also produces purses, bags, wallets, and men’s loafers, all from recycled and marine plastic.

Over the last few years, investors and customers have paid more attention to the environmental and social impact of the companies they back or buy. AllBirds, another sustainable shoe and fashion company, made a 2021 IPO valued at $4 billion.

Rothy’s was founded by Stephen Hawthornthwaite, chief executive, and Roth Martin, president. They remain significant owners and are involved in operational oversight.

Promoting Competition in the US Economy

Earlier this month, President Biden signed an Executive Order to “promote competition in the American economy.”  This seeks to decrease costs for families while increasing salaries, promote innovation and ultimately result in faster economic growth.

The idea behind this order is a “decisive action” on the part of Biden to somehow decrease the trend that has been escalating in the creation of corporate consolidation and increase realistic competition, putting consumers, farmers, workers and small businesses in the driving seat.  The Executive Order features 72 initiatives undertaken by over a dozen federal agencies who will be expected to counter some of the most worrisome competition issues nationwide.  Ultimately – once they are fully in place – people’s quality of lives will be enhanced.

Too many people were hit financially hard by the pandemic.  With this Executive Order strategic action is meant to provide hope for people seeking to start a business, grow a business or even get a better job. The Order has many features.  Some of these are:

  1. The banning/limiting of non-compete agreements and bureaucratic occupational licensing requirements which hinder economic flexibility. This should help people change jobs more easily.
  2. Sell hearing aids over the counter, saving thousands of dollars for hearing-impaired.
  3. Enforce clear disclosure of add-on fees from airlines, making it easier for consumers to get refunds.
  4. Help federal agencies promote greater competition via their spending decisions and thus increase opportunities for small businesses.
  5. Augment the Department of Agriculture’s tools, empowering farmers, increasing their wages and ending the abusive practices of some meat processors.

As Biden said in his recent White House Briefing,

“The heart of American capitalism is a simple idea: open and fair competition — that means that if your companies want to win your business, they have to go out and they have to up their game; better prices and services; new ideas and products. That competition keeps the economy moving and keeps it growing.  Fair competition is why capitalism has been the world’s greatest force for prosperity and growth.”

Let’s hope the Executive Order works the way it has been intended. 

Small Businesses in a Pandemic Era

Small businesses have definitely had a lot to deal with over this past year-and-a-half.  Since March 2020, many have suffered from lockdowns, stay-at-home orders and restricted gatherings. While no-one has managed to avoid challenges during this time, it seems financially that this particular demographic has possibly suffered the most.

According to a recent article  on the subject, the first thing we have to remember anyway is that America’s business demographic is made up of 99.9% small businesses. Of those working in the private sector, a little less than half work for these firms.  Closure of these businesses is currently 34 percent (compared to January of 2020) and San Francisco has been severely impacted with a rate much higher than that of 48%. Experts are now discussing a K-shaped recovery but with these numbers, that could be slowed down as well.

Despite all of this, people’s spirits are still strong and there is much work that is being done to turn this around.  For example, while there is a national Small Business Day held in November, New Jersey had one last month.  NFIB New Jersey (New Jersey’s leading small business association) held its Small Business Day on May 5 2021 and discussed a variety of issues relating to the devastation small businesses have encountered and what they need the state to do.  One action is aid to provide the $1bn lost from New Jersey’s Unemployment Fund since the start of the pandemic.  To do this, liability protection laws must be passed for small business owners and of course, re-opening the economy.

Joe Olivo, NFIB member and a local small business owner further explained:

“I know I am not speaking just for myself when I say that the past 13 months have been among the most challenging I have faced in the 33 years that I have been at the helm of my business. Many of the Executive Orders coming from the Governor have made the cure worse than the disease. Many of our political leaders and the media continue to lump all business together as though we are all multi-national corporations. Fortunately, NFIB provides us a way to collectively voice our opinion regarding legislation that is often detrimental to not just our businesses, but to the millions of people we collectively employ.”

 According to New Jersey’s NFIB State Director, Eileen Kean, the recent Small Business Day provided a “wonderful opportunity for our small business owners to engage with their legislators…[who] need to hear from real people that are being affected by what they do in Trenton.”

Yes, much work still needs to be done but the fact that days like this are being held – in which legislators can really hear what the people need – is a good start.