Artistic license: New show highlights illustrations for patents

Artistic license: New show highlights illustrations for patents

By Jay Rath, Isthmus

If the highest function of art is to communicate ideas, then a recent and curious collection of technical drawings is very fine art, indeed. The inventive exhibit is about exactly that — inventions — historic inventions created at UW-Madison, and the patent illustrations that describe them.

The Artistry of Innovation: Patent Drawings Through Time includes 26 inventions from nearly a dozen disciplines, submitted to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office since 1928. From a piano with two keyboards to a device that ties shoelaces, the images are sometimes beautiful, sometimes bizarre and always provocative. The exhibit will be on display in the Union South gallery through Nov. 14.

“To me, each of them is worth more than a thousand words,” says Sally Younger, who helped curate the show.

“Many, if not most, patents have drawings associated with them,” she explains. “In addition to the words and the text and the abstracts that are in a patent, we also have these drawings, which help us illustrate parts or components, or illustrate how a technology may be novel and stand apart from the rest.”

The exhibit was assembled by the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation in partnership with the Wisconsin Union Directorate. It’s the first collaboration between the two.

WARF was created in 1925 to manage rights to the university’s creative property and to use proceeds to benefit research. The foundation was founded with its earliest patent, for fortifying food with vitamin D. In just the last year, WARF provided more than $100 million in support to the UW. Read more …