Patent drawings express innovative ideas, reveal the wildly imaginative products of the future, and are beautiful works of art in their own right. They’re also one of the best distillations of the tech industry’s greed. Most patented ideas never make it to market. Instead, they’re often protection from a company’s competitors, a way to generate cash, and fodder for multi-million dollar lawsuits.
Media artist Jeremy Bailey is fascinated with patent drawings, especially the phenomenon of tech journalists scouring filings to get a scoop forthcoming product announcements or to speculate about what a company is exploring. He also relishes how haphazard and crude some of the illustrations on the filings are. Despite the billion-dollar companies behind the patents–Apple, Alphabet, IBM, and more–the sketches were sometimes rudimentary and oddly human.
“I love that these huge glossy companies are revealed in these drawings for what they really are—collections of flawed individuals just like you and me,” Bailey told the Creators Project. “My work is all about celebrating human vulnerability in contrast with technology, so for me they’re an obvious extension.”
Bailey started illustrating his own “patents” in 2011, 12 of which are part of an exhibition called Electronic Superhighway, on view at the Whitechapel Gallery until May 15. The inventions are whimsical and bizarre, like augmented reality nail polish and a device for the display and control of thought-driven drawings. As outlandish as they sound, remember this: when the Tricorder—a hand-held medical sensor and diagnostic tool—appeared on Star Trek in the 1960s it seemed far fetched, but the sci-fi invention is a very real product today.