Whenever a visual is essential to explaining an invention, the U.S. 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.
See FindLaw's Patents section for related resources.
USPTO Rules for Patent Drawings
The main formatting rules for drawings, for the purposes of a patent application, are as follows (see the USPTO drawing guidelines for more details):
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:
Get Professional Legal Help With Your Patent Application
While an attorney may not be able to draw your invention for you, they certainly will ensure a smooth process as you engage with the USPTO. If you have any legal questions about your patent application, you should consider professional legal counsel. You can start the process today by finding an IP attorney located near you.