When you apply for a patent, you have to include patent drawings. The drawings are the first draft of the application and the first thing done after your patent search and they really tell the story of your patent. Regardless if you apply for a utility, design or even a provisional patent application, the patent illustrations come first when you write the patent.
For a utility patent (what most people mean when they say patent), the inventor needs to explain how the invention works to the United States Patent Office (USPTO). That explanation is in the drawings. The drawings have several numbered arrows pointing out the key parts of each drawing. The bulk of a patent’s text is an explanation of the numbered parts of the drawing.
A patent is a lot of things: a legal document, a valuable asset, public education but it is foremost a technical document. A patent teaches engineers to build a machine, programmers to make a system and chemists to synthesize a compound. What are patent drawings when they are not scientific figures or technical diagrams?
Some patent drawings are of ornamental designs on a plate or the shape of a shoe. Design patents protect the look of a particular design. A design patent application is not much more than a drawing. A design patent only contains a few sentences explaining what the design goes on and how it looks. For that reason, a U.S. patent search for a design patent very complicated.
For example, you have in idea to make a high-heeled shoe with a railroad spike for a heel. Your application will mostly consist of drawings that you have made of the spiked high heeled shoe. One way to make the design patent as broad as possible is to make drawings of variations on the shoe: one pointy toed, one round toed and one with a sling back. You expand your design concept across multiple kinds of high heel shoes and make it harder for your competition to make a similar shoe.
Not all design patents are for fashion and housewares. Design patents cover computer interfaces or the layout of smartphone operating systems. It may take multiple design patents for different interfaces or menu screens in order to protect all the novel designs in an operating system or computer interface.
Drawings are also an important part of a provisional patent application as well. A provisional patent application allows an inventor to file a simpler application. A provisional patent is a simple way for the inventor to have a patent application on file. Within a year of filing the provisional patent, the inventor has to file a utility application that links back to the provisional application.
When an inventor files the utility application, he is limited to the information in the provisional application. A good provisional patent application is broad. It includes a lot of information and a lot of variation. That way, when the inventor needs to convert the provisional into a utility patent he has options.
For example, you invent a new mechanism for a reciprocating saw that supports two blades. You get a meeting with a tool manufacturer and quickly draft a provisional application to protect your rights. In it, you include a drawing of an idea you had for a three bladed reciprocating saw that uses the same mechanism. You never tested it but, based on what you know, it should work.
After talking with the tool company you realize that the three bladed saw is perfect for them. You build the three bladed prototype and it works just like your drawing in your provisional. When you go to convert the application, your patent attorney reads your provisional application. She concludes that because you have both a two and three bladed saws you can expand the scope of the invention to as many saw blades as can be supported by your mechanism. You do another experiment and realize that up to five blades can be supported by the mechanism in your provisional application. You draft the utility patent accordingly.
A good patent drawing is worth pages of written text. It can be the basis to expand your good idea to its full application. Drawings are the heart and spine of your invention. They are also the one part the inventor can help the most with. Even if you do not completely understand every word of your patent’s text you can rest easier if all the drawings make sense.
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