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The Basics of Patent Drawings

Learn about the USPTO requirements for drawings that accompany patent applications.

Whenever a drawing is necessary to fully understand an invention, the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) requires drawings of the invention to accompany patent applications, and requires the drawings to adhere to strict rules. Drawings don't have to be works of art, but they should describe and demonstrate the invention with a great deal of accuracy, and of course, they must follow the drawing rules the USPTO has set forth.

USPTO Rules for Patent Drawings

The major formatting rules for drawing are as follows (visit www.uspto.gov for full rules):

  • Black ink on white paper.
  • Color is rarely allowed, and only when the color is necessary to describe the invention (a separate petition must be submitted to the USPTO before color is allowed).
  • Photographs are only allowed where photographs are the only practical method of displaying the invention. For example, inventions involving a scientific gel are not suitable for drawings, and photographs are more appropriate to physically demonstrate the invention.
  • 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 either 21cm by 29.7cm or 21.6cm by 27.9 cm (8 1/2 by 11 inches)
  • Each page must have margins of specific length on all sides (visit www.uspto.gov to find the specific dimensions).
  • The drawing(s) must contain as many views as necessary to properly show the invention. Exploded views and blown-up partial views of specific portions of the invention may be used. If you do need to show different views of the invention, the drawings must be grouped together and facing the same direction on the page.
  • Drawings are preferred to be in upright form (as opposed to the horizontal landscape drawings).
  • The drawing should be drawn on a scale that will not be crowded when reproduced at 2/3 size. Indications like "full scale" or "1/2 scale" are not acceptable since they lose their meaning with reproduction in a different format.
  • Shading is encouraged where it aids in understanding the invention.
  • Numbers are preferred to letters as reference characters in a drawing. When using letters, the English alphabet must be used.

Hiring a Professional Artist or Draftsperson

The above rules and regulations, coupled with the fact that most people don't consider themselves artistically proficient, leads patent applicants to hire professionals to handle all the drawings required. Professionals charge anywhere from $75 to $150 per page. Because patent applications often require multiple pages and multiple views to properly describe their inventions, the cost can add up very quickly.

If you have the money and lack the patience or time to do all the drawings yourself, a professional draftsperson can be an asset.

Do It Yourself

While a professional's rendering of your invention may look wonderful, you can also do the drawings yourself. In addition to the savings in cost, you are more likely to know the intimate details of your invention and therefore 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, and you could lose a great deal of time while doing it.

If you're still nervous about doing drawings on your own, go to 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 clearly amateur. A majority of drawings are done by hand by the inventors themselves, and it shows. Looking at the site should reassure you that artistry doesn't matter as much as the invention itself.

Computer Aided Design (CAD) Drawings

Computer software can help tremendously if you have the knowhow and are disinclined to do your drawings by hand. The obvious advantage of computer drawing software is that if you're nervous that you can't draw a straight line or a circle without it ending up sloppy, the software takes care of that for you and the end result looks very professional. CAD software can create sharp 3-D drawings that can help more easily describe and breakdown the physical characteristics of an invention. They are also much easier to correct, as you can simply erase mistakes and save several versions of drawings as you go.

The downside is that CAD software often costs several hundred dollars, plus if you aren't familiar with the program, you'll have to learn a new skill.

Tips for Submitting Your Own Patent Drawings

If you do choose to draw your own patent applications (whether by hand or by CAD), be sure to follow the rules outlined above. Other quick and dirty tips include:

  • If the invention allows, you may want to 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 the way you want it to. (It's much easier to erase pencil after all.)
  • If you must use color, be sure to first submit a petition to the USTPO and get their approval.
Next Steps
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