Designers and Their Cars - Automotive Patent Art Revisited

Ronnie Schreiber
by Ronnie Schreiber
designers and their cars automotive patent art revisited

A Brooks Stevens concept.

Aaron Cole’s post about automotive patent art gladdened my heart. Years ago, I decided to check out some of Les Paul and Leo Fender’s original patents on their electric guitars and I discovered the artistry of patent drawings. These days the United States Patent and Trademark Office, as well as patent offices around the world, accept digitally produced artwork. However, before the digital age, an inventor had to hire someone skilled at technical drawing to produce the various exploded and see-through sketches needed to describe the “preferred embodiment” of a process patent.

Of course the “inventor” of a design patent — a slightly different form of intellectual property that protects the design and look of a product — is more often than not, the actual designer.

Following up on Aaron’s post, I decided to put the names of some notable automotive designers into a patent search engine to see what I could find. My hypothesis was that in the case of a design patent, particularly for a car, the artwork for the patent application was likely to have been drawn by the designer. A patent is a big deal to any engineer or designer and he’d likely want to be the one responsible for representing his own idea best.

Clare MacKichan’s Chevy Nomad

Yes, sometimes the boss takes credit for subordinates’ work. Harley Earl, General Motors’ first head of styling, was known not to draw very well. Designers and clay modelers working for him, though, said he had a masterful way of waving his hands that communicated well to the designers the vision he had in his mind’s eye. Car design is a collaborative process, involving people you work with and work for. Guys like Earl, his successor Bill Mitchell, or carrozzeria boss Nuccio Bertone had some justification in putting their names on patents, even if they only had supervisory roles.

Car body designed by Harley Earl in 1921 when he was still working for his father’s custom body shop in Los Angeles, before he was hired by Alfred Sloan to start GM’s styling department in 1927.

Next to lead designer Hank Haga’s name, the Chevrolet Aerovette patent carries Mitchell’s name along with that of senior designer Chuck Jordan (who succeeded Mitchell as head of GM Design) as well as GM designer Jerry Palmer. A similar situation exists with the current Mustang convertible, whose patent bears Ford design chief J Mays’ name along with those of designers Moray S. Callum, Joel Piaskowski, Darrell Behmer, and Kemal Curic.

A Ray Dietrich design.

I’m willing to guess that even if Earl, Mitchell or Mays didn’t render the patent drawings themselves, they assigned a senior designer with the task of their posterity, not some intern. Regardless of who did the actual drawings, they were very well executed.


Eugene “Bob” Gregorie was Ford’s first head of styling.

One of Virgil Exner Sr’s Chrysler-Ghia show cars.

Harley Earl’s name is on this Cadillac design from the early 1950s.

This Motorama concept, called L’Universelle, was a front wheel drive passenger van designed by Chuck Jordan.

One of Ian Callum’s Jaguars

A more recent, digitally rendered Jaguar

Marcello Gandini’s Lamborghini Diablo

Giorgetto Giugiaro’s DeLorean DMC12, an update of an earlier design of his.

JB’s editors at R&T might think that Paul Bracq designed the BMW M1, but it’s Giugiaro’s name on the design patent. Bracq did the BMW Turbo, on which the M1 was based.


Art Ross, who headed Cadillac and Oldsmobile’s studios, rendered the Golden Rocket Motorama car

Raymond Loewy coupe concept from the early 1960s.

One of Virgil Exner Sr’s last cars for Chrysler.

A Corvair concept by Larry Shinoda.

One of Bill Mitchell’s Corvette concepts, perhaps the Mako Shark.

Camilo Pardo’s Ford GT

The current Ford Mustang

Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can get a parallax view at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading – RJS

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  • ChiefPontiaxe ChiefPontiaxe on Aug 20, 2015

    Very interesting article. What you should know is that it is highly unlikely that any of the aforementioned auto designers actually penned these patent drawings. Note that the US Patent and Trademark Office has very stringent requirements regarding drawings ( ), and that it's likely that the designer couldn't be bothered to familiarize himself with such requirements and prepare a set of PTO-compliant drawings, in addition to the drawings required by his boss(es). Peace Out, ChiefPontiaxe, registered patent attorney.

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    • ChiefPontiaxe ChiefPontiaxe on Aug 21, 2015

      @Ronnie Schreiber Note that the Patent & Trademark Office has loosened the requirements when it comes to design patent drawings - even photos are now acceptable. However, it likely not advisable to submit rendered CAD (or other photo-like) drawings, for reasons noted in my below comment. Namely, when an element is shown in hatched/phantom lines, it means that that element does not form part of the invention, which is why most auto design patents show the wheels in hatched/phantom lines. Otherwise, the patentee would be limited to the vehicle/wheel combination shown in the design patent, and making it easier for an accused infringer to avoid infringement by changing the wheels of the accused vehicle. Thus there is often the need to submit specially-prepared design patent drawings which show ONLY the elements which the applicant claims as the invention. I would be most pleased to help you regarding IP matters, and will email you offline.

  • ChiefPontiaxe ChiefPontiaxe on Aug 20, 2015

    Note that when an element is shown in hatched/phantom lines, it means that that element does not form part of the invention, which is why most auto design patents show the wheels in hatched/phantom lines. Otherwise, the patentee would be limited to the vehicle/wheel combination shown in the design patent, and making it easier for an accused infringer to avoid infringement by changing the wheels of the accused vehicle.

  • Dusterdude @El scotto , I'm aware of the history, I have been in the "working world" for close to 40 years with many of them being in automotive. We have to look at situation in the "big picture". Did UAW make concessions in past ? - yes. Do they deserve an increase now ? -yes . Is their pay increase reasonable given their current compensation package ? Not at all ! By the way - are the automotive CEO's overpaid - definitely! (That is the case in many industries, and a separate topic). As the auto industry slowly but surely moves to EV's , the "big 3" will need to be producing top quality competitive vehicles or they will not survive.
  • Art_Vandelay “We skipped it because we didn’t think anyone would want to steal these things”-Hyundai
  • El scotto Huge lumbering SUV? Check. Unknown name soon to be made popular by Tiktok ilk? Check. Scads of these showing up in school drop-off lines? Check. The only real over/under is if these will have as much cachet as Land Rovers themselves? A bespoken item had to be new at one time. Bonus "accepted by the right kind of people" points if EBFlex or Tassos disapproves.
  • El scotto No, "brothers and sisters" are the core strength of the union. So you'll take less money and less benefits because "my company really needs helped out"? The UAW already did that with two-tier employees and concessions on their last contract.The Big 3 have never, ever locked out the UAW. The Big 3 have agreed to every collective bargaining agreement since WWII. Neither side will change.
  • El scotto Never mind that that F-1 is a bigger circus than EBFlex and Tassos shopping together for their new BDSM outfits and personal lubricants. Also, the F1 rumor mill churns more than EBFlex's mind choosing a new Sharpie to make his next "Free Candy" sign for his white Ram work van. GM will spend a year or two learning how things work in F1. By the third or fourth year GM will have a competitive "F-1 LS" engine. After they win a race or two Ferrari will protest to highest F-1 authorities. Something not mentioned: Will GM get tens of millions of dollars from F-1? Ferrari gets 30 million a year as a participation trophy.