Tema Q and PASSIM Seminar featuring Kathy Bowrey: “David Unaipon as inventor: Decolonising stories of innovation and patent.”

We are delighted to have Kathy Bowrey visit Tema Q as a special guest on behalf of PASSIM. Dr Kathy Bowrey is a Professor in the Faculty of Law, UNSW, Sydney. She is a legal historian and socio-legal researcher whose research explores laws and practices that inform knowledge creation and the production, distribution and reception of technology and culture. Her primary expertise relates to intellectual property, information technology regulation, regulatory theory, media practice, business history, feminist scholarship and a concern for Indigenous rights.

June 16, 13:15-15:30 Tema Q and PASSIM Seminar featuring Kathy Bowrey: “David Unaipon as inventor: Decolonising stories of innovation and patent.” (Tvärsnittet and Zoom)

About the seminar: David Unaipon descendant Kym Kropinyeri lived with his uncle David Unaipon, an Aboriginal man described as the Australian Leonardo De Vinci and featured on the $50 note. Mr Kropinyeri approached Professor Bowrey with doubts and questions about standard accounts of the inventor’s life and in particular, about his much celebrated 1909 shearing patent. Why did Unaipon fail to benefit from this patent or indeed from any of his other numerous inventions? The family understood that the shearing invention was taken by Cooper Engineering/Sunbeam without recompense. This research was based upon a Research Fellowship at the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences, Australia and as a Visiting Scholar at the State Library of New South Wales. It draws upon archival material about mechanical sheep-shearing, Cooper Engineering and patent office files, moving from a conventional account of technological innovation that link the story of stand-alone objects to exceptional individuals, to better connect Unaipon’s invention to Aboriginal accounts of survival and opportunity.



Kathy Bowrey website: https://www.unsw.edu.au/staff/kathy-bowrey
PASSIM website: https://liu.se/en/research/passim 
Twitter: @PASSIMproject
Questions and registry: Mattis.Karlsson@liu.se

Christoph Rodrigo de la Torre Presentation: Patenting Atomic Vision [video]

”At exactly what point does a drawing turn into a patent drawing?” This was one of the challenging questions posed by Christoph Rodrigo de la Torre as he presented his paper on the early visual recapitulation of nuclear bomb explosions. These explosions were long believed to resist capture, but they eventually were through a device called the stroboscope, patented in the 1930s. Christoph’s talk also brought to the fore the patent drawing, having emerged as a standard way of visualizing inventions in patent applications after patent models had been abandoned.

The stroboscope was designed to capture microseconds of nuclear explosions, serving as both a documentation of nuclear technology and a form of detachment from the actual destruction resulting from that technology. Christoph conveyed how patents were and still are not only scientific documents but also a literary and visual genre with a certain level of materiality. At the same time, patent drawings such as the stroboscope adhered to a specific logic and a reductionist aesthetic standard. Christoph illustrated how patent drawings had become a profession by, at least, the 1940s, with its own instruction books. At the same time, the legal framework surrounding the use of patent drawings suggests an interesting legislative relationship between word and image that requires further study in the future.

Investigating the stroboscope’s history further ties into more general insights from the history of photographic technology, such as the early impulse of this medium to reduce visual ‘noise’, to slow down events, and to detach objects from their context, stripping them of excessive detail and rendering them entities of singular interest. As a further demonstration on how this patented-visualised technique actually worked, fascinating and ominous at the same time, Christoph showed a few short video sequences of nuclear explosions created with the aid of the stroboscope.

The following discussion emphasized, among other themes, the inventor as not only creator of devices, but as an artistic agent as well, challenging a binary opposition between copyright and patents. Another topic was the emergence of a visual language in patents as a system for representing the functional and invisible. Another relevant medium closely connected to the stroboscope was of course early film and its (mass) production of objects of desire.



Christoph Rodrigo de la Torre is a PhD candidate in Art History, Theory and Criticism at University of California, San Diego.

Video by LiU communications officer Per Wistbo Nibell. Text by Johan Larson Lindal who also chaired the event.