According to the U.S. Trademark and Patent Office in 2012 alone, there were 542,815 applications for patents with 276,788 patents granted. Since 1790, there have been 7 million patents issued total, when Samuel Hopkins was awarded the first patent for a process of making potash, an ingredient used in fertilizer. That patent was signed by President George Washington. While it has been somewhat widely known that 1930s Hollywood siren Hedy Lamarr held the patent on a “Secret Communication System” that eventually led to our present day WiFi, did you know that youngest Marx Brother Zeppo held Patent #3,473,526 for a Cardiac pulse rate monitor?
It should come as no surprise then that there are many graphic designers with U.S. patents, since the field by its very nature is cross disciplinary. What is surprising is the number that do, and in some cases, the volume of patents they hold. Certainly one would expect Raymond Loewy, at once both a graphic and industrial designer, to hold myriad, but consider that Milton Glaser holds over a half dozen, likewise Massimo and Lelia Vignelli. And who knew that one could patent a typeface? Apparently Lucian Bernhard and Paula Scher did.
Also of interest are patents held by familiar names in closely related fields, such as Bauhaus founder and architect Walter Gropius and former Pentagram partner architect James Biber among them.
Unfortunately, if one is looking for aesthetically pleasing drawings by these designers, you might be disappointed, as the renderings are clearly in service of the dictates of the form, although not without a certain charm. Still, it is both edifying and fun to newly discover creations from those we admire. Here is a sampling in alphabetical order:
BOTTLE (Patent # 212,211, Patented Sept. 17, 1968)
PERFUME BOTTLE (Patent # 124,598, Filed Nov. 5, 1940)
CHAIR (Patent # 133, 847, Filed June 24, 1942)
William Drenttel and Jessica Helfand
METHOD AND SYSTEM FOR COMPUTER SCREEN LAYOUT BASED ON RECOMBINANT GEOMETRIC MODULAR STRUCTURE (Patent # US 7,124,360, , Date of Patent: Oct. 17, 2006)
Stefan Sagmeister and Hjalti Karlsson
Paula Scher and Ronald Henry Tse
Massimo and Lelia Vignelli
PACKAGE 0F BOTTLES (Patent # 215,648, Patented Oct. 21, 1969)
CHAIR (Patent # 300,484, Date of Patent: Apr. 4, 1989)
Craig Yoe, et al
USER RECONFIGURABLE NOVELTY GLASSES (Patent # 4,798,455, Date of Patent: Jan. 17, 1989)
ROTATING BALL COLLECTING GAME, (Patent # 4,961,580, Date of Patent: Oct. 9, 1990)