Thomas Jennings and Jin Fuey Moy: Patents for Struggling Minorities – Black History Month


It is black history month in the United States.  So here’s a question: what do Thomas Jennings and Jin Fuey Moy have in common? They certainly never met each other.

Thomas Jennings (1791-1856) was most likely the first African-American patentee.  The patent was granted on March 3, 1821 for a cleaning process called “dry scouring”. He was able to patent his invention because he was a freed man.  The patent law at that time would otherwise prohibit granting patents to slaves who were viewed as the property of their master.  The first money Thomas Jennings earned from his patent was spent on liberating his family out of slavery and to support the abolitionist cause.

Jin Fuey Moy (梅振魁; Mei Zhenkui, 1862-1924), as I have blogged elsewhere, was the first Chinese to file a patent overseas (1908).  Dr. Moy came to the United States in 1875, making his way to New York, where he became a domestic servant and was baptized a Christian.  He later attended medical school in the United States.

Both individuals personally struggled in a country that treated people as property, or excluded them from entering the United States.  They also actively opposed these oppressive policies – slavery and Chinese exclusion.

Tom Wolfe described the drive to invention as follows: “Is there any more feverish dream of glory in the world, outside of Islam, than the dream of being an inventor? Certainly not in the United States; and probably not in Japan or any other industrial country. An invention is one of those super-strokes, like discovering a platinum deposit, or a gas field, or writing a novel, through which an individual, the hungriest loner, can transform his life overnight, and light up the sky. The inventor needs only one thing which is as free as the air.   a terrific idea. ”   My former colleague, Lin Xu, translated this as follows: ““ 在伊斯兰教之外的世界里,除了成为一个发明家,还有其他更加光荣和充满激情的梦想吗?在美国,或许同样在日本和其他工业国家,这是不可能的。发明是一种神来之笔,如同探索金矿或天然气田,或写一部小说,通过这些,个人——最饥渴的孤独者——可以一夜之间焕新生命,点亮整个天空。发明家所需要的只有一件事,那件事像空气一样自由,那就是:一个完美的创意。

When a patent system works well, it should be color-blind, and based on science.  It might also “transform” the inventor “overnight.”    Perhaps, in so doing, it also empowers them to work towards the betterment of others.

Comings and Goings: US Chamber and CISAC

The US Chamber of Commerce in Washington, DC has recently posted a job as Senior Director, China.   The position requires; 10+ years’ China-related experience; a broad network of contacts in the United States and China; and ability to build strong internal and external relationships and influence at the senior level.  Experience as a former official, diplomat, or government affairs executive working in Asia, fluency in Chinese, and advanced degree is preferred.  Here’s the link:

On a completely unrelated note, CISAC (the International Federation of Authors and Composers Societies) opened a regional office in China on January 15, 2014.  Benjamin Ng, who was formerly with IFPI, is the regional director for CISAC Asia Pacific.   I wish Benjamin and CISAC well in their new venture.

Perhaps the most significant new office development is still in the works: the opening of a representative office of the World Intellectual Property Office in Beijing, which has been widely discussed in the Chinese press. 


Truth or False: Dream of the Red Chamber and the Terra Cotta Warriors


“When falsehood stands for truth, truth likewise becomes false.” — Cao Xueqin, Dream of the Red Chamber

A French author has challenged the authenticity of the Terra Cotta figures in Xi’an, suggesting that they were manufactured during the Cultural Revolution. These are “fighting words” to many.  What interests me is an excerpt from an on-line interview, which discussed his claim and other fakes:

 “[I]n 2011, a whole Monegasque show of luxury brands was duplicated in Shanghai. Even more surprising, in 2007, in Germany, the Hamburg’s Museum of Ethnology was forced to close down an exhibition of terracotta warriors; after investigating the authenticity of the statues, they were revealed to be fake. The Chinese authorities confirmed the deception and claimed the exhibition had been organized without their authorization. In a world dominated by brands and by the manufacture of material, spiritual or cultural products, could the false be ontologically inseparable from the authentic?”

I have no expertise in this area, other than to note that where counterfeiting is widespread, there can also be an underlying erosion in social trust and even in the national “brand” of China.   Is China’s culture of counterfeiting creating a paranoia in the West?  Cultural scholars aren’t the only skeptics.  Many visitors come back from China and generalize from counterfeit goods in the street to  empty “see through” buildings which suggest that China’s real estate boom and even economic growth are also fakes.

The interview notes that discriminating between fake and real has a long tradition in Chinese culture – from the ancient philosopher Zhuang Zi to Buddhist notions of illusion (maya), and the classic Qing dynasty novel, Dream of the Red Chamber, which involved two rival families – the Zhen family (a homonym with real) and the Jia family (a homonym with fake).  The quest for reality, or escape from illusion, is an underlying theme of that novel. 

Painting from Wikipedia, entry on Dream of the Red Chamber, by Sun Wen 孙温.