How do I Make a Patent Drawing?

Patent drawings are any illustrations of the invention, of methods or steps to utilize or carry out the invention, or prior art of every feature in the patent claim. Patent drawings are a very important part of the patent process. In fact, under U.S. patent law, patent applications must include at least one patent drawing whenever a drawing would assist with understanding the invention.

For all intents and purposes, patent drawings, sometimes called patent illustrations, are virtually always required, and even when they are not required, including them is a good way to strengthen your application. It is important to know what to do and not to do when creating a patent drawing so that your drawing helps, rather than hinders, your application.

Drawings Can Improve Your Application

Unless your patent application relates to a chemical compound or a method, a patent drawing is probably required. Even if it is not required, you should include one to be on the safe side. There is sometimes a disconnect among patent applicants between what must be included in the application and what should be included. Patent drawings done well help the application and should be included. Virtually everything, including methods, can generally be illustrated visually in some way.

One of the quickest and easiest ways to get a patent application rejected is to be too broad and general in describing your invention. The broader and more general your description, the more likely it is that there is “prior art”—meaning someone else has already claimed a patent that overlaps your application. Your description of your invention needs to be detailed and nuanced, starting with an overview and then peeling back the layers of the invention and describing each in great detail. Patent drawings can be extremely helpful in this process. A good set of drawings accompanying your written description will help the reader of the application to grasp the concept of your invention much more thoroughly.

What Should Be Included in the Drawings?

Most patent applications include at least several sheets of drawings, with multiple views on each sheet. If your invention is a physical object, your drawings should include views of the object from each angle and perspective—top, bottom, front, back and sides. If your invention has components, you may opt to include drawings of each individual component as well as views of how they fit together. Sometimes this is accomplished using diagrams or an “exploded view” which allows the user to see each individual component but also to see the spatial relationship between the components in the finished product. Drawings of methods and processes will usually consist of flow charts and diagrams designed to help the reader understand the steps in the process and their order, as well as any loops or branches and what occurs at those points.

When in doubt, err on the side of including too much detail in your drawings rather than too little. Most applications do not include as many patent drawings as they could, which is usually a mistake.

Specific Requirements

According to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), patent illustrations should be submitted on white matte paper that is flexible and strong and should be:

  • Single sided
  • Either 21cm by 29.7cm or 21.6cm by 27.9 cm (8 1/2 by 11 inches)
  • Margined as follows
    • 2.5 cm on the top
    • 2.5 cm on the left side
    • 1.5 cm on the right side
    • 1.0 cm on the bottom.
  • Arranged with different views grouped logically together and facing in the same direction on the page
  • Preferably, oriented in portrait form as opposed to landscape form

There are specific requirements, that differ by circumstance, for fonts and captions, as well as very limited circumstances when color drawings can be submitted, and specific requirements that apply when color drawings are used.

Obtaining the Drawings

There are a few possible approaches to obtaining the necessary patent drawings:

  • Do it yourself sketches
  • Use of a computer assisted drawing program
  • Hiring a patent illustrator

Do It Yourself Drawings

If you are a skilled illustrator and/or your invention is easy to represent visually, you may want to consider creating your drawings yourself. This is certainly a cost effective option. You may be able to take photographs of your invention (or prototype) and then use tracing paper to trace the photos. Even if you do create your own drawings, however, it is wise to consider having an expert review the drawings to ensure they meet USPTO requirements. If you are using an attorney to prepare your patent application, he or she will likely be able to assist with this.

Computer Assisted Drawings

Computer Assisted Drawing, or CAD software, can be used to create professional grade patent illustrations. CAD software can allow even those without artistic skills to quickly create detailed drawings and easily revise and correct them. The software itself can be expensive, but subscription based online versions are increasingly available. Many CAD programs allow you to scan a photo into the program and convert the photo into a drawing.

Patent Illustrators

If you are not a visual artist, the thought of producing patent drawings, even with a software tool, may be intimidating. Fortunately, professional assistance is readily available and relatively cheap given the overall cost of a patent application. Patent illustrators can help you determine the best way to visually represent your invention and often charge as little as $100 per page.  An entire industry has sprung up around patent illustration. Patent illustrators understand USPTO requirements for the drawings and may also add value by knowing which of the various illustration methods available in a given situation will show off your invention to the best advantage.

If you use a patent attorney for your application, he or she can likely identify a patent illustrator and oversee the work. Patent attorneys don’t generally prepare these drawings themselves, apart from some specialists in the software industry who may self-prepare the schematics and flowcharts generally used in those applications. There are also now several online services where you can request and receive illustrations over the web, sometimes for as little as $25 per view.

When to File the Patent Drawings

Technically, a non-provisional patent application can be filed without final drawings, but experts warn that this is never advisable. Although you can add drawings to an application after it has been filed, patent law contains rigorous restrictions on adding new “matter” to an application post-filing. Since the drawings are often the best tool at the applicant’s disposal to ensure the invention is fully understood, they should be submitted with the initial filing to ensure they are included as matter within the application from the beginning. This has the added advantage of better protecting your invention against later applications for similar inventions.

Courts frequently look to the patent drawings submitted with the application as evidence of what “one of skill in the art” (other inventors) knew about the invention at the time the patent was filed. In other words, if you have good detailed drawings in your original application, then from that day forward it is harder for other inventors to claim they did not understand what your application was about and inadvertently filed an application for something similar.

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