The Occasional, Unintentional Hilarity of Patent Art

It's a man! Playing whack-a-mole! In a bucket? Wait, what? Why is he sad?

Let the good times roll with context-free patent art, a dive into the confounding illustrations that at times grace these bureaucratic imprimaturs.

A tumblr collecting these little pieces of found-art was created last month by Brendan Sinclair, an editor at GameSpot. While working on a essay about patents for video-game mechanics, Sinclair came across many delightfully weird patent drawings that unfortunately had no place in the piece. A colleague suggested he turn them into a Tumblr and thus contextfreepatentart.tumblr.com was born.

On the tumblr, all of the drawings are presented completely, you guessed it, context free. There's not even a link or a patent number, so if you want to know what the picture is, well, you're kind of out of luck. "I love the idea that when you strip something of its context, people will fill it in with their imaginations," Sinclair told me. Still, he says, having seen the patents he can attest that even with the full context, many of them still make little sense.

Every now and then he comes across a patent whose drawings really are better with a bit of context, or at least as a series of several drawings. But Sinclair doesn't want to muck things up with such dalliances. If he wants to highlight those patents, he'll just have to start a new tumblr.

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Rebecca J. Rosen is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where she oversees the Business Channel. She was previously an associate editor at The Wilson Quarterly.

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