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Illustrations aren’t always required but are strongly recommended

Anything that is shown in drawings is a part of the disclosure and can be used to support the claims.

BY GENE QUINN

U.S. patent law requires 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.

In other words: Whenever a drawing would assist in the understanding of an invention patent drawings, or at least one patent drawing, is necessary. Based on my experience, I can say that a patent drawing is almost always required.

In fact, the best way to expand any disclosure is through the inclusion of quality patent drawings. Patent illustrations are essential for any application.

However, for the purpose of being completely accurate, patent drawings are not always required. According to the Patent Law Treaty, which became effective in the United States on Dec. 18, 2013, patent drawings are no longer necessary in order to obtain a filing date for a patent application.

But in my opinion, only the most foolish applicants would ever proceed without a patent drawing.

Rules on filing dates

The 2013 change to the law says it is possible that a patent drawing could be filed later than the filing date without risk of losing the earlier filing date. But remember: You are never allowed to add new matter into a patent application, period.

If you need to add something you forgot after you filed a nonprovisional patent application, you must file another nonprovisional patent application to get a new filing date. The United States Patent and Trademark Office has cautioned patent attorneys, applicants and anyone else that the ability to secure a filing date without a drawing does not mean that new matter will be permitted at the time a drawing would be filed.

Because drawings almost always add more than the text that would support them, it is difficult to imagine what kind of patent drawings you could add after the filing date. It is far better for applicants to always file patent applications with patent drawings—as many as feasible.

One circumstance in which patent drawings are not required is when you are claiming a chemical compound or composition. The formula would be enough; a drawing would not be required. Still, you will sometimes see patent drawings even in chemical patents.

Another circumstance in which a drawing may not be required is when you are claiming a method. Having said that, even with methods there is almost always at least some illustration that could assist the reader (and patent examiner). Furthermore, the drawings are a part of the overall disclosure, which helps expand what you have disclosed to help ensure you have adequate support for the invention and the various permutations of the invention you will want to claim.

You can almost always depict something with an image. If you can, you should. You never know when you might need to make a very fine argument that your disclosure shows something and the only support you have is in a drawing. That might not be the best argument to make, but it is one that can and has prevailed in the past.

According to the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, which is the chief patent court in the United States, anything that is shown in drawings is a part of the disclosure and can be used to support the claims. Of course, I don’t recommend leaving things out of your written disclosure, but if you accidentally leave something out of the text and it is shown in a drawing, you are saved.

Hyper-technical requirements

In reality, you should also not think in terms of a single patent drawing or illustration but in terms of how 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.), and you may need to break down the invention and show drawings of one or more of the component parts.

The drawings should show every feature of the invention specified in the claims. As you probably guessed, given the peculiar requirements of the patent office, there are specific rules governing nearly every aspect of patent drawings.

That is why you are best served to leave patent drawings to the professionals. They have years of experience, they don’t charge that much, and they bring life to an invention.

The patent office specifies the size of the sheet on which the 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 people using the patent descriptions.

In reality, however, the drawings need to be electronically reproducible. Given that patent illustrations are line drawings, certain shading conventions must be in place to provide a means for showing depth and various perceptions.

Because the detail of the patent drawing is what saves you, having a professional patent illustrator is 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.

When dealing with mechanical inventions I am a particular fan of exploded views, which show all the pieces and parts in a state of suspended animation about to collapse backward into the finished product. Editor’s note: If you have ever tried to put together furniture or a toy using illustrated instructions that show various small, large screws/nuts/dowels and where they go directionally in relation to larger parts, you have an idea of what an exploded view is.

Hire a professional

Now, how do you make the drawings? To be honest, I don’t know and don’t want to know.

This is the way virtually all patent attorneys and patent agents treat drawings, which is why we turn to professional patent illustrators to do drawings for us. The benefit of hiring someone is that these folks know all of the little picky details, and the drawings they make will be accepted by the patent office the first time around.

You will probably be surprised how affordable it is to hire a professional patent illustrator. Typical charges can run between $75 to $125 per drawing sheet depending upon the complexity of the invention, with design patent illustrations being more expensive. The cost of patent illustrations is very reasonable in light of the importance of drawings and the peace of mind associated with knowing that a drawing has been done right.

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