Honoring Herstory: The North American "Forefather" Of The Home Security System Was A Mother (Of Invention)

Published date05 April 2024
Subject MatterIntellectual Property, Patent
Law FirmReavis Page Jump LLP
AuthorMs Nafsika Karavida

As we close Black History Month and Women's History Month, we take this moment to honor a woman whose innovations are relied upon in many households and businesses today, while hers is still not a household name.

Nearly 60 years ago in 1966, African American nurse Marie Van Brittan Brown lived in Jamaica, Queens, New York. As a nurse, she worked irregular hours and would come home late at night or spend nights on her own because her husband, Albert Brown, an electrician, also spent long and odd hours at work, away from home. Marie Van Brittan Brown was often concerned about her safety when home alone.

Feeling secure is a central component of our well-being. Unfortunately, the reality is that this universal need is still a luxury many cannot afford - particularly for people living in socioeconomically vulnerable areas. Marie Van Brittan Brown determined to devise a system that could help her surveil her home and alert the police if an intruder showed up. Together with her husband Albert, she invented the first closed circuit home security system, for which they were granted a patent by the United States Patent Office in 1969. The patent, U.S. Patent 3,482,037, names Marie Van Brittan Brown as the principal inventor.

The Invention

Brown's s residential security system was comprised of four vertical peepholes on the front door, a sliding camera, television monitors, and microphones. The system allowed the home occupant to see who was at the door and communicate with that person with the help of two-way microphones ("intercommunication" equipment) - and, to remotely open the door by the simple pushing of a button. The system also included a radio-controlled alarm for sending an external alarm to a guard, policeman or watchman at a security station, and a closed-circuit television, which today is known as CCTV.1

Not a Household Name

This ingenious home surveillance system is still of utmost relevance today, modified over time to apply to "banks, office buildings, and apartment complexes."2 According to the Washington Post, "... video surveillance is a massive and fast-growing industry, with a global market that was worth $45.5 billion in 2020 and is expected to exceed $60 billion in 2023."3

Despite this fact and the near ubiquitous presence of home and commercial video security systems, have you ever heard of Marie Van Brittan Brown?

In researching for this article, we were surprised to learn that, after the immediate attention she received following her...

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