Keith Dixon, Patent Attorney
by Andrea M. Payne
In 1885, former slave, Sarah Elisabeth Goode, became the first Black woman to receive a United States patent for inventing a folding cabinet bed that could be converted to a roll-top desk. Patents are important because they protect your ownership rights for things you have invented. However, prior to the end of slavery, “Slaves could not get patents because they were considered property and property could not own property,” notes Keith L. Dixon a licensed patent attorney for more than 20 years.
Dixon earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Mechanical Engineering from Howard University in 1987 and a Juris Doctor from the George Mason School of Law in 1994. He is a member of the American Bar Association, the District of Columbia Bar and the Patent Bar. And he is one of the few Black patent attorneys in the United States. Nationwide only 1.7% of intellectual property (IP) attorneys are Black, according to a 2020 article published by Bloomberg Law.
Noting that without a patent or trademark, people’s inventions can be stolen from them, Dixon is committed to creating a more equitable landscape so people have the opportunity to live their dreams. To that end, Dixon is proud to have managed a nationwide program, sponsored by the Department of Commerce, that helps inventors secure patents and trademarks at no cost. “Many people cannot pursue their dream because they don’t have access to the legal services they need,” Dixon observes.
For Dixon, taking time out of his busy schedule to speak with Boston Design Academy students reflects his commitment to increasing the number of African Americans in STEM. “It is very difficult if not impossible to be what you don’t see,” he says. “It’s important for young people to see a minority or a woman achieve their goals. They know it’s real and that an ordinary person can do it,” he says. Dixon applauds BDA students for their “insightful” questions. “They were spot on. They did their homework,” Dixon says, noting that he was quite surprised when one student asked him what he thought of Jim Bridenstine, former NASA administrator who stepped down from the position in January 2021.
Reflecting on his journey, Dixon wants young people to know that, “You can do more than you think you are capable of. If I could go back and talk to my younger self, that is what I would tell myself. In high school I wanted to go to MIT, but I didn’t have the confidence to apply. That was an opportunity that I did not allow myself to have because I thought I wouldn’t succeed. So I didn’t even bother.” As Dixon matured, he became a risk taker, and left NASA for a position at Lexis/Nexus where he was laid off due to the recession. Still, he does not regret the move. “This gave me a different experience.”
“Be prepared and be honest,” Dixon responds when asked what advice he would give young people of color as they prepare to enter the workplace. “This means learning about strategic alliances in the workplace. Learning about the inner circle. When the recession came, those in the inner circle were safe.” And Dixon emphasizes, “It’s important for young people to know who they are going into these institutions. You are of value. Don’t let anybody tell you otherwise.”