What Are Patent Drawing Rules?

Patent drawing rules are the requirements set by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office for drawings, pictures, flowsheets, and diagrams that go with a patent application. Most patent applications contain drawings. In fact, for a nonprovisional patent, a drawing must be provided to explain better and outline the subject matter associated with the patent request. To increase the likelihood of having a patent request accepted, it's important to follow the patent drawing rules outlined by the USPTO.

When you want to submit a patent to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, it's not as easy as filling out a patent application, paying a fee, and waiting for a response. Though provisional patents don't need drawings, a nonprovisional patent needs at least one drawing to show how the invention works.

When creating your drawings, stay within the rules described in the Manual of Patent Examining Procedures, such as:

  • Draw in black and white unless color is the only way to show a part of the invention.
  • Use India ink on all drawings.
  • Make sure drawing is to scale when the illustration is reduced to two-thirds the size.
  • Include identification above each drawing, including the invention name, name of inventor, and application number.
  • Submit all drawings on 11-inch by 8.5-inch white paper or A4 paper. This paper must:
    • Be non-shiny, flexible, free of creases or folds, durable, and white.
    • Be free of erasures, alterations, overwritings, and interlineations.
  • Make the margins at least 1 inch on the top and left sides, 3/8 inch on the right, and 5/8 inch on the bottom.
  • Include scan target points (cross-hairs) on two catercorner margin corners.
  • Never superimpose one drawing over another.
  • Use symbols and a legend if necessary to describe the invention.
  • Avoid solid black shading except on bar graphs or to represent color.
  • Use lead lines that guide the reader from the drawing to the associated symbol in the description.
  • Number each page and view in order with Arabic numerals.
  • Avoid holes in the paper.
  • Photographs must follow the same rules regarding the type, size, and margins of the drawing.

A complete list can be found in Title 37 of the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), specifically § 1.84. Remember that drawings aren't limited to illustrations and can also include charts and diagrams. In some instances, a photograph may work better than a drawing. However, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office only allows photos for utility patents and design patents. Photographs must be in high definition to show the details of the invention.

Chemical compounds are the only type of non-provisional patent that doesn't require any drawings.

Color Drawings

Color drawings are rare among patent applications, and they are only allowed for design and utility patents. If you think color drawings are necessary, you must file a petition and pay the specified fee of $130 under Title 37 (CFR) 1.17(h) for permission to use them.

If you send your petition in the mail, be sure to include two sets of color drawings and one photocopy that shows the same subject matter in black and white. If you are filing online, only one set of drawings is needed. You also need to add the following language to your patent's specification (the written description of the invention): "The file of this patent contains a least one drawing executed in color. Copies of this patent with color drawings will be provided by the United States Patent and Trademark Office upon request and payment of the necessary fee."

When creating your color drawings, make sure the quality is high enough that they can be reproduced in black and white on the printed patent without losing any details.

Graphic Forms in Drawings

Tables, formulas of a mathematical or chemical nature, and waveforms are subject to the same rules as any other type of drawing. Formulas and waveforms also have specific requirements:

  • Formulas: Each formula must be labeled as a separate figure and include brackets to show any necessary information.
  • Waveforms: Waveforms must be presented in a single figure that uses a vertical axis and a horizontal axis that shows time. Each individual waveform must have a letter designation adjacent to the vertical access for identification.

Why Is It Important to Follow Patent Drawing Rules?

If you don't include patent drawings or don't follow the patent drawing rules, your application is incomplete. Because it's incomplete, the date of filing will be delayed. This could end up costing you a patent, especially if competitors are trying to patent the same type of invention. Photographs and color drawings have their own rules, so take care to follow those, too.

Following the patent drawing rules will also help the patent officer determine whether the invention is non-obvious and novel. These standards are two of the main hurdles to getting a patent.

Filing with quality patent drawings also helps establish priority of invention with an earlier filing date, which is important in a first-to-file country like the United Staes. To fully benefit from an earlier filing date, the patent application must cover the invention and all of its permutations, and quality drawings make this process easier. The United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit has frequently used patent drawings to help determine what a skilled person would have considered disclosed at the time of application.

In addition, a patent drawing may save you if you leave something out of the written description. For this reason, a quality drawing is often the norm, and a professional patent illustrator to draft the drawing is a valuable asset.

Guidelines to Follow for Patent Drawings

Processes, machines, and designs are three of the most popular patent types. Each follows the same general patent drawing guidelines:

  • Clearly show features, including text and illustration.
  • Keep the drawing neat with no signs of erasure or errors.
  • Maintain legibility throughout.
  • Always use the metric system, as it is the preferred measurement throughout the world.
  • Make the drawing visually appealing to grab attention.

Although these guidelines aren't strict rules, following them will help the patent officer better understand your invention. At the application stage, you don't need to fit all the requirements of a formal patent drawing. However, less technical components still apply, such as the correct font to label aspects of the drawing, as well as the margins of the drawing.

What Views Do I Need?

To show how your product looks and works, use several viewpoints in your drawings. If applicable, include the following views of your invention:

  • The standard six views (front, back, right, left, top, and bottom). Unornamented surfaces can be omitted.
  • Perspective views with three dimensions.
  • Only the front and back views of a flat object.
  • Sectional views to show function.
  • Exploded views to show how a single part works during operation of the invention.

Shading is another key part of patent drawings. It shows depth, contour, and texture. To do this, you can use dots, lines, and distinctive patterns.

Arrows and lead lines are also important in the patent draw. There are three times to use arrows:

  • On a lead line, a freestanding arrow shows the entire section which it points to.
  • On a lead line, an arrow touching a line shows the surface indicated by the line.
  • To show movement direction.

Other Considerations

Even with all these rules, there are also considerations you should be aware of. Some of these include:

  • Copyright or Mask Work Notices: These can be placed in the drawing directly below the portion they pertain to. However, they must only be 1/8 inch by 1/4 inch. These are only to be used in cases applicable to law and must be included in the specification.
  • Numbering of Sheets: Drawings must be numbered in Arabic numerals in the middle of the top of the sheet, but not in the margin. Numbers can be moved to the top right if they interfere with the drawing. Numbering must also include two numerals separated by a line to show the page out of the total number of pages. Make sure that numerals are also larger than the numbers used to identify portions of the drawing.
  • Numbering of Views: Views must also be numbered with consecutive Arabic numerals, independent of sheet numbering. Partial views must also use Arabic numerals, followed by a capital letter. Numbers and letters must also be clear and not used with brackets, circles, or inverted commas. These numbers must also be preceded by "FIG." When there's only a single view, "FIG" is unnecessary.
  • Security Markings: Security markings can be used but must be in the center of the top margin.
  • Corrections: All corrections submitted with the patent drawing must be permanent and durable.

On Your Own vs. Trained Professionals

As long as you follow the patent drawing rules, making professional charts, illustrations, and diagrams isn't as hard as you may think. You can stick with a pen and paper, or you can use patent drawing software. Options range from free but limited software to expensive, versatile programs. The quality of each depends on your skill in using it.

If you don't have the patience to draw, don't have the skill, or don't want the added pressure of making complex drawings, a professional patent illustrator is a great choice. These highly trained professionals will make each page for around $100 to $125. Although this may seem expensive, it's a fair price to pay for the most important part of your patent application.

Common Mistakes

Many inventors don't take enough time or care with their drawings. This could result in an incomplete patent application, or the patent office may not have enough information to make a decision. That's why it's always important to include as many drawings as are needed to fully explain the invention.

Other inventors don't want to shell out the extra cash to hire a draftsman or patent illustrator. Instead, they rely on their own hand. For moderate to strong artists, this isn't a terrible idea. However, poor drawers may be denied a patent without the help of a trained expert.

Steps to File a Patent With Correct Patent Drawings

Once you've filled out the basic patent application and written a full description of the product, it's time to add the drawings. Remember that only provisional and chemical formulas can be submitted without a drawing. For all other patents, include as many drawings as possible to show how the product works.

If you need help with patent drawing rules, you can post your question or concern on UpCounsel's marketplace. UpCounsel accepts only the top 5 percent of lawyers to its site. Lawyers on UpCounsel come from law schools such as Harvard Law and Yale Law and average 14 years of legal experience, including work with or on behalf of companies like Google, Stripe, and Twilio.