What’s your sign? Patent office releases icons to illustrate intellectual property

The designs came out of an “iconathon” workshop USPTO held with the Noun Project over the summer.

How do you communicate the concept of STEM — that is, science, technology, engineering and math — in a widely recognizable symbol?

That was the challenge designers, students, civic activists and intellectual property experts confronted at an “iconathon” workshop held at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s Northern Virginia headquarters over the summer, during which participants turned sometimes-murky ideas in intellectual property into icons. On Friday, the office unveiled 19 designs from the workshop that were released in the public domain.

The patent office plans to integrate the icons into its website as a way to encourage their use.


The selected design for the “STEM” icon. (Noun Project)


At the event, participants sat at roundtables with sketchbooks and pencils to brainstorm ways to illustrate ideas like “maker,” “invention” and “prior art.” At the end of the workshop, participants voted on and discussed what others came up with. The event was cohosted by the Noun Project, whose goal is to create a global library of icons that could be understood across the globe.

“Each day, more people are entering a sometimes unfamiliar world of intellectual property (IP),” Deputy Undersecretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Deputy Director of the USPTO Russ Slifer wrote in a blog post Friday.

He added, “By putting a visual mark on common intellectual property notions, we hope to help spread awareness about IP while engaging with the public.”

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