Fighting for the Independent Inventor

Jerome Lemelson was born in New York in 1923. His father was a physician who immigrated to America. Jerome showed an interest in invention as a young child. He developed a tongue depressor with a light source for his father.

He served in the Army Air Corps during World War II and returned to the U.S. to study engineering at New York University. While in the military, he taught African-Americans in engineering. His experience with segregation in the military led to a lifelong interest in opening up engineering careers to young African Americans.

After receiving a bachelor’s and two master’s degrees, he worked in the private sector for a short period of time. He decided to work as an independent inventor due to his disgust at the lack of innovation in corporate America. His first major invention was the application of industrial robots using machine vision. The year was 1954.

He continued to develop inventions at a prodigious rate. He averaged one patent per month for the rest of his life. Not only did he do the inventions, but filed the patents, did the documentation and even the detailed drawings. He chose not to use patent attorneys.

Jerome was able to have 600 patents awarded in his lifetime. He was one of the world’s most prolific inventors. In addition to his invention career, he became an advocate for independent inventors. Most inventions developed by those in business employment had to cede their patent rights to their employer. He fought against this. He also argued for changes in patent practices involving privacy and ownership rights based on the timing of the patent submission.

When Jerome discovered he had liver cancer, he continued to patent, submitting 40 patent applications in the last year of his life. Following his death in 1997 all of the patent applications were awarded.

Jerome and his wife Dorothy created the Lemelson Foundation. The Jerome and Dorothy Lemelson Center at the Smithsonian brings the story of invention to those who visit the Smithsonian’s Museum of American History. It has continued Jerome’s commitment to invention, especially that of the independent inventor.                                                                                                                    

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“Invention is the most important product of man’s creative brain. The ultimate purpose is the complete mastery of mind over the material world, the harnessing of human nature to human needs.” – Nikola Tesla

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