By Richard Stim, Attorney
The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), the federal agency charged with registering and managing patent applications, requires applicants to submit drawings of their invention if such drawings are necessary to understand its workings. This applies to all types of patents, including utility patents, the most common.
According to the USPTO, the vast majority of patent applications contain drawings. This leads to the question: Where do you get the drawings?
Patent drawings are often fairly technical. Preparing them, therefore, can be an intimidating task. Can you do the drawings yourself, even if you're not a professional draftsman, engineer, or talented artist? The answer is usually "yes." Doing so does have several advantages, including saving significant costs and retaining a higher degree of control over the timeline and product. But what exactly do you need to do?
When it comes to preparing patent drawings, you have two options: You can hire a professional draftsperson or drafting company, or you can prepare them yourself.
Using a professional draftsperson. Many inventors turn the job of preparing patent drawings over to a professional draftsperson. Such firms are easy to find online.
The advantages of using a professional are obvious. First, these individuals and firms ordinarily know what must be included in the drawings, and how to describe inventions visually in a manner that the USPTO will accept. Second, they can save you the time and effort of undertaking the task yourself.
But there are also downsides. Most obviously, professional drafters can be costly. Typically, you'll pay $75 to $150 per sheet of patent drawings. Because most patent applications have two or more sheets of drawings, you can easily pay many hundreds of dollars per patent application. Prices will vary significantly, though, depending on the nature and complexity of your invention.
Another disadvantage is that you will lose some degree of control over the drafting process, perhaps requiring you to pay additional money to go through multiple rounds of edits.
Advantages of doing the drawings yourself. If you can write the patent application yourself, you can probably draft the patent drawings yourself, as well. You will need to learn some USPTO rules, and there will be a learning curve. The potential rewards are many, however. In addition to saving money on the application, you will be able to:
Below we discuss various ways to create your own drawings.
Prepare and file a provisional patent application online, with Nolo’s easy-to-use Online Provisional Patent Application.
The traditional method of making patent drawings is with pen and ruler, usually in black and white. The basic tools are inexpensive, though drawing is fairly difficult because you must use India ink (a dark type of ink with carbon particles that is often used in architectural or technical drawings). There is little room for errors, except for very small marks, and it is difficult to correct misplaced ink lines.
You will need to learn basic drawing techniques, especially drawing perspective views that show all the features of your invention. One trick that helps for some inventions is to trace photographs onto paper.
If it is necessary in order to illustrate your invention properly, color drawings (and color photographs) may also be submitted to the USPTO with your application. (Patent applications are uploaded electronically to the USPTO, allowing for color filings).
In order to do so, you must:
You may wish that you could save time by taking a photograph of your invention rather than drawing it. However, photographs are not a substitute for patent drawings.
Indeed, photos are rarely used and will be accepted only in applications in which the invention is not capable of being illustrated through an ink drawing or where the invention is shown more clearly in a photograph. These might include, for example, photographs or photomicrographs of electrophoresis gels, cell cultures, animals, plants, or crystalline structures.
If you are artistically and photographically challenged, modern computer-aided drawing (CAD) programs are close to miraculous. They let you produce accurate drawings even if you qualify as a certified drafting dunce. And you can correct mistakes as easily as you correct typos with a word processor.
CAD equipment can be expensive. This equipment can set you back several hundred dollars. Optional but helpful equipment includes a high-resolution scanner and digital camera. These purchases are likely worthwhile only if you intend on filing multiple patent applications over a long period of time, rather than just one or two.
If you have a scanner, you can scan a photograph and import the scanned image into a CAD program. If you have a digital camera, you can photograph the object and transfer the image directly to your computer through a cable. Once the file is on your computer, tracing it is easy (and because you use a mouse instead of a pen, you don't even need a steady hand to trace the image).
You can also use a CAD program to draw your invention from scratch. For this, you'll be better off with a program that lets you construct a three-dimensional representation of your invention by using and modifying geometric building blocks. You can then manipulate the model to produce different views and perspectives.
If you are ready to do your patent drawings yourself and save some money on draftsman fees, read How to Make Patent Drawings, by Jack Lo, Patent Agent, and David Pressman, Attorney (Nolo).