Patented: 1,000 Design Patents

Phaidon. May 2021. 1,056p. ISBN 9781838662561. $39.95. REF
In this virtual museum, Rinaldi (coauthor, Hudson Valley Ruins: Forgotten Landmarks of an American Landscape) chronologically samples anonymously drafted technical patent-standard renderings of industrial designs. These aren’t the far more numerous “utility” patents for functional originality; instead, design patents identify designers and record and protect (for 3.5 to 14 years) an object’s appearance. (Images and other graphics may be copyrighted but cannot be design-patented, apart from manufactured physical products. Separate plant patents protect natural articles. Processes, machines, and “compositions of matter” cannot be design-patented.) Selected from the million design patents registered since 1842 by U.S. and global applicants, these examples, spanning 1900 to 2020, demonstrate that many ordinary objects have aesthetic interest and reveal the “fingerprints” that can characterize a designer or era. The designs—both iconic (Montblanc pen) and obscure—include entertainment, household, and office items; buildings; and bicycles. Type, designer, and manufacturer are indexed. (U.S. government entities that fund but do not manufacture are absent.) Among the 900-plus designers, a few are famous names (Knoll, Hadid, Noguchi). Whether patents reliably measure innovation is debatable; critics complain of the Patent Office’s inadequate resources, leading to regulatory capture, deteriorating quality, and a slew of “gadgetry” substituting for groundbreaking creativity. Here, however—from Ouija boards to storefronts; from cars, clocks, and cameras, to trains, tools, and toasters—inventiveness is on display.
VERDICT A unique reference; will be useful to historians and designers and fascinating to browsers.
Comment Policy:
  • Be respectful, and do not attack the author, people mentioned in the article, or other commenters. Take on the idea, not the messenger.
  • Don't use obscene, profane, or vulgar language.
  • Stay on point. Comments that stray from the topic at hand may be deleted.
  • Comments may be republished in print, online, or other forms of media.
  • If you see something objectionable, please let us know. Once a comment has been flagged, a staff member will investigate.



We are currently offering this content for free. Sign up now to activate your personal profile, where you can save articles for future viewing