The patent laws require that a patent applicant to furnish at least one patent drawing (sometimes referred to as a patent illustration) of the invention whenever the invention is capable of illustration by way of a drawing. Said another way, whenever a drawing would assist in the understanding of an invention you need at least one patent drawing. Based on my experience I can say that patent drawings are almost always required, and the easiest best way to create a better, strong application is to include many patent drawings.
The only time patent drawings are not required is when the invention relates to a chemical compound or composition is being claimed, or if there is just a method or process being claimed. Still, virtually every method or process can be depicted in one way, shape or form by illustration. That being the case it would be wise for applicants to provide illustrations even when a method is being claimed. Thus, there is a disconnect between what is “required” by law and what should be provided. The key is to understand that anything included at the time you file a patent application makes up the totality of the disclosure, and the reality is that patent drawings are worth at least 1,000 words — likely much more!
It is important, in fact critical, for inventors and those new to drafting patent application understand that it is essential that the invention be described with as much detail and specificity as possible. You do not only want to describe the specific, but not describing the specific is an enormous mistake. I hear all the time that inventors don’t want to describe things specifically because they don’t want to be locked in and want very broad protection. That is wonderful, but if you only describe the very broad, general aspects of your invention the chance of getting a patent rapidly declines to asymptotically approach zero percent. The more broad and general the more likely what you describe will be within the prior art. Without layers of nuance and specifics you wind up having nothing to add to distinguish over the prior art and as a result wind up with no patent, or a patent with claims that are clearly invalid on their face.
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What this means is that you conceptualize the invention as an onion with many layers. Never describe the invention in concrete terms with words like “must have,” but rather describe the invention in terms of “some versions can have this feature/function/element.” As you are doing the describing you will eventually get to the point where you need to describe the invention and its various parts, pieces and characteristics in a way that seems similar to the well known children’s song Skeleton Bones. The hip bone is connected to the thigh bone and so on. This is largely done referring to the drawings included in the patent application so that the reader can reference the images as they read to follow along with the discussion.
To properly accomplish the goal of having the best disclosure possible you should also not think in terms of a single patent drawing or illustration, but rather in terms of however many patent drawings are necessary in order to demonstrate what you have invented. Most patent applications have at least several sheets of drawings, with each sheet routinely having multiple views of the invention. You may need to show various views (top, bottom, right, left, etc.), or you might show what is called an exploded view, where the elements are suspended in space and if you envision them collapsing inward the device would become whole. You may also want to break down the invention and show drawings of one or more of the component parts. In my experience most patent application do not have as many drawings as they could have, which is a mistake. Patent drawings are extremely cheap given the overall cost of everything else that goes into the patent process. You should be able to find an illustrator who can provide illustrations for $100 a page. At that rate you can and should have many patent drawings showing various aspects of the invention.
Patent drawings are required by Patent Office rules to be in a particular form, and that is why you want to work with a professional patent illustrator. The rules will seem archaic to those new to the field, and there is an entire cottage industry associated with patent drawings. Your patent attorney will typically not be the one creating your patent illustrations unless your invention deals with software and the illustrations are only going to be flowcharts and schematics. For all over inventions a patent illustrator will work under the direction of the patent attorney or agent to provide the illustrations desired.
The Patent Office specifies the size of the sheet on which the patent drawing is made, the type of paper, the margins, and many other hyper-technical details relating to the making of the drawings. The reason for specifying the standards in detail is that the drawings are printed and published in a uniform style when the patent issues, and the drawings must also be such that they can be readily understood by persons using the patent descriptions.
At the application stage there is usually no need to provide a drawing that formally meets all the requirements set forth in the patent laws, but many of the less technical requirements do apply as of the time of filing, such as the need to use the right size font to label aspects of the illustration and margin requirements. Nevertheless, there are significant benefits to submitting professional patent illustrations at the time of filing. Indeed, it is my opinion that the better view is that formal, professional patent drawings are essential in any application.
While it is now technically possible to file a non-provisional patent application without drawings, it would be an extremely foolish mistake to file a patent application without drawings. Although drawings can now come after the time of filing you still cannot add new matter after filing. Since drawings really are worth 1,000 words or more it is virtually impossible to know how meaningfully descriptive drawings could be provided after the time of filing without adding new matter. That has lead the Patent Office to warn everyone that the best practice remains filing drawings at the time of filing.
The benefit of quality multiple quality drawings at the time of filing is due to the fact that the primary benefit of filing an application is to capture a filing date that can be used to demonstrate priority of invention, which is all the more critical now that the U.S. is a first to file system. In order to capture the full benefit of a filing date, a patent application needs to completely cover the invention and all permutations as of the time the application is filed, thus multiple quality patent illustrations are quite helpful.
The United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, the primary patent law court in the United States, has frequently consulted patent drawings in order to determine what one of skill in the art would have considered disclosed at the time the application was filed. Detailed drawings are indeed worth a minimum of one thousand words, if not more, because if you accidentally leave something out of the written disclosure, a drawing you submit may save you in the long run. This is provided, of course, the drawing is detailed enough to convey nuanced information about your invention. Because the detail of the patent drawing is what saves you, having a professional patent illustrator is quite wise. Without question, the best way to broaden the scope of any application is to file the application with multiple, detailed and professional drawings. The benefit received from professional patent illustration is well worth the investment.
Now, how do you make the drawings? To be honest with you I don’t know and I don’t want to know. As much as I can appreciate art I am no illustrator. There are so many rules and regulations with respect to patent drawings that like virtually all other patent attorneys and agents I would rather focus my time and energy on the law and the patent process than on meeting the technical requirements that will satisfy the picky requirements of the USPTO. The benefit of hiring someone is that these folks specialize in patent drawings, they know all of the little picky details, and the drawings they make will be accepted by the Patent Office the first time around.
If you are looking for good, quick, economical patent drawings consider Autrige Dennis at ASCADEX Drafting Services. Autrige created the images of a hamburger used in this article, which were originally created for my article titled Working with Patent Drawings to Create a Complete Disclosure, which is essential reading for those new to patent drafting.
If you are like many inventors and you need some engineering or development assistance I recommend you consider Enhance Product Development. Enhance can help you design your invention. They work in CAD and ultimately can create a 3D rendering of your invention. Although 3D renderings are not used in patent applications, they are particularly helpful if you want to move toward licensing your rights. The nice thing using Enhance is that they can print many drawings easily from a variety of vantage points. These drawings would be perfectly fine for a provisional patent application, and could possibly also be used in a non-provisional patent application. But if you need help and are thinking about licensing then working with Enhance gives you the double benefit of getting at least provisional patent drawings combined with development and licensing assistance.
For more information please see these articles on IPWatchdog.com: