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The Basics of Patent Drawings

Whenever a visual is essential to explaining an invention, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) requires drawings of the invention to go with patent applications. It requires the drawings to adhere to strict rules. These rules apply to both black and white drawings and color drawings, depending on the type of patent.

Drawings don't have to be works of art, but they should describe and show the invention with a great deal of accuracy. Make sure to follow the drawing rules of the USPTO.

United States Patent and Trademark Office Rules for Patent Drawings

When filing a patent application, the applicant includes patent drawings as part of the specification. The specification describes the inventions:

  • Subject matter
  • Structure
  • Functions
  • Features

The main formatting rules for drawings for a patent application are as follows (see the USPTO drawing guidelines for more details):

  • Black ink on white paper.
  • Color is rarely allowed. It is only allowed in a separate petition. The color has to be necessary to describe the invention.
  • Photographs are only permitted where photographs are the only practical method of displaying the invention. For example, inventions involving a scientific gel are unsuitable for drawings. Photographs are more appropriate to show the invention physically.
  • The USPTO accepts color photographs in design patent applications but may require black-and-white versions for utility patent applications to maintain readability and consistency.
  • The paper must be white, matte (non-shiny), flexible, and strong. Writing is only allowed on one side of the paper.
  • The paper size must be 21cm by 29.7cm (8.5 inches by 11 inches, also called A4).
  • Each page must have margins of a specific length on all sides:
    • 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
  • The drawing(s) must contain as many views as necessary to show the invention properly. Expanded and blown-up partial views of specific portions of the invention are allowed. If you need to show different views of the invention, group the drawings facing the same direction on the page.
  • Drawings should be in the upright form, as opposed to horizontal landscape drawings.
  • The drawing should be drawn on a scale that is open when reproduced at 2/3 size. Indications like "full scale" or "1/2 scale" are unacceptable since they lose meaning with reproduction in a different format.
  • Shading is encouraged where it aids in understanding the invention.
  • Use numbers, not letters, as reference characters in a drawing. When using letters, the English alphabet must be used.

Hiring a Professional Artist or Patent Illustrator

The above rules and regulations, coupled with the fact that most people may not consider themselves artistically proficient, lead patent applicants to hire professionals to handle all the drawings required. Professionals charge anywhere from $75 to $150 per page.

The cost can add up quickly because patent applications often require multiple pages and multiple views to describe their inventions adequately. A professional draftsperson can be an asset if you have the money and lack the time and/or skill to do all the drawings yourself.

Do It Yourself

While a professional's rendering of your invention may look fabulous, you can also do the drawings yourself. You are more likely to know the intimate details of your invention. Therefore, you could create a drawing that best describes the invention to the patent examiners.

Additionally, while a professional draftsperson may save you time drawing, you'll still have to express your wishes and explain your invention to the draftsperson. You could lose a great deal of time while doing it.

If you still need to decide whether to do drawings independently, visit the USPTO website and look at other patent application drawings. When you do, you'll see a wide range of drawings, from highly professional to amateur. Most drawings are hand-drawn by the inventors, and it shows. Looking at the site should reassure you that artistry matters less than the invention itself.

Computer-Aided Design (CAD) Drawings

Computer software can help tremendously if you have the know-how. The advantage of computer drawing software is that software makes the result look very professional. CAD software can create sharp 3-D drawings that can help describe and break down the physical characteristics of an invention. They are also much easier to correct, as you can erase mistakes and save several versions of drawings as you go.

The downside is that CAD software often costs several hundred dollars. If you need to become more familiar with the program, you'll have to learn a new skill.

Tips for Submitting Your Patent Drawings

If you choose to draw your own patent applications (whether by hand or CAD), follow the rules outlined above. Other useful tips include:

  • If the invention allows, simply trace it onto a sheet of paper.
  • Learn about drawing perspective views to give the examiner as full and detailed a description as possible.
  • Because the final copy must be in ink, do a few drafts in pencil until you get the drawing to look how you want it to. It's much easier to correct a pencil.
  • If you must use color, submit a petition to the USTPO for approval.

Other Patent Application Concerns to Consider

The filing date is critical when filing a patent application because it establishes priority and determines certain rights. Small businesses and entrepreneurs can enjoy some of the incentives provided by the USPTO, such as:

  • Expedited processing
  • Reduced fees
  • Special programs designed to support them in the patent protection process

The USPTO is a member of the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT). The PCT is an international application patent filing system that streamlines the process of seeking patent protection in multiple countries.

Provisional patent applications can be filed temporarily, providing a filing date and one year of patent protection while developing the invention or preparing a non-provisional application.

Once you have a granted patent, you have exclusive rights to the claimed invention, preventing others from using, selling, or making the patented invention without the owner's permission.

Get Professional Legal Help With Your Patent Application

Working with a patent agent or patent attorney is advisable to ensure compliance with the USPTO's requirements. You should consider professional legal counsel if you have any legal questions about your patent application. You can start the process today by finding an intellectual property attorney. See FindLaw's Patent Law section for additional related resources.

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