Patent Drawings: Where Art and Science Collide
While we may never know what came first- the chicken or the egg, we now know the answer to the other question that has plagued mankind for decades: over or under? A few months ago, social media exploded with the news. It has now been proven that the proper way to hang toilet paper is the “over” position. Surprisingly, it was neither Dear Abby nor Peggy Post who solved the dilemma. It was a lesser known Seth Wheeler and his 1891 patent drawing for toilet paper displaying its designed use in the over position. Below are Figures 1 and 2 of U.S. Patent No. 465,588.
While every patent drawing may not have the life-changing implications of the one described above, the drawings of a patent application are crucial to the strength of the application. It is well-known that the description and claims sections of the patent application are certainly important, but the patent drawings probably best portray the elements of the invention in an understandable manner. Accurate drawings can show what would take pages and pages to describe and can assist both the layperson as well as the patent examiner comprehend the basics of an invention more quickly and easily. High quality drawings can also benefit an inventor beyond attaining a patent. While patent infringers or competitors may not have the time or ability to understand a complete patent application, they may look at accurately done drawings and decide not to produce a similar product or pursue their own patent protection. It is always beneficial for a patent holder to deter infringement before it occurs. However, if the inventor ever finds himself or herself in a patent infringement case, it just may very well be the drawings that sway the judge or jury since it is the section that can be most easily understood by a layperson.
While every country has its own set of drawing rules which are often lengthy and extremely detailed, there are some requirements which are common to most or all patent offices: clarity and solid black lines of uniform thickness. The ability for patent offices to satisfactorily reproduce the drawings is a universal standard.
In utility applications, which protect the way an invention works, many different types of drawings may be used to showcase certain aspects of the invention. The inventor may wish to include views that highlight the problem the invention solves. At times, drawings of the prior art may be included to differentiate the invention from previous patents. Drawings that place the invention in its intended context to assist in understanding are also common. Elevated views, perspective views, sectional views, or exploded views can be helpful in complicated inventions. Tables, graphs, chemical formula, or mathematical formula are also acceptable in the drawings section of a utility application. The patent attorney, the inventor, and the draftsperson should strategize together to determine the types of drawings that will best present the invention to the patent examiner.
In contrast to utility patent applications, design patents, which protect the way an invention looks, rely solely on the drawings, and thus, accurate design drawings are crucial to attaining and enforcing design patents. The drawings guidelines at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office highlight the importance of the drawings in design patent applications by instructing, “nothing regarding the design sought to be patented is left to conjecture.” In other words, no detail or view of the invention may be omitted. In the United States, design drawings must also be accurately shaded to show the contour of all surfaces and the three-dimensional nature of the invention. While the number of utility patent drawings can be minimal, a number of views are required in design patents. Every aspect of the design must be shown in the drawings, and the scale and detail must be consistent within the views. While the applicant may be given opportunity to correct inconsistencies in the drawing views, the stipulation against adding new matter can make correction difficult or at times impossible. Particularly for design patents, using a draftsperson is critical both for prosecuting the application efficiently and for enforcing the resulting patent.
While no particular license or degree is required to become a patent draftsperson, most have a unique combination or artistic and technical skills. The modern draftsperson must also have considerable understanding of computer generated drawing programs. Along with skill, the greatest evidence of excellence is experience and proven results. Head, Johnson and Kachigian, P.C. proudly works with a draftsman who embodies all of the above qualities.
From a historical perspective, the inclusion of at least one patent drawing has been a requirement since the inception of the patent office in 1790. If there is any possibility that a drawing can assist the Examiner in understanding the invention, at least one drawing should be included. The applicant will often be required to explain to the Examiner why drawings are not included. Inventors were even required to submit a working model with the application until 1880. Often these miniature models will show up on “The Antiques Roadshow,” and many are quite valuable. The DFW Elite Toy Museum has posted a video of its Salesman Samples and Patent Models Exhibition from June 2013 at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7eDVrX5l2uE.
While there has always been a drawing requirement, the level of detail involved and artistic nature of the drawings has changed considerably throughout the years. Some beautiful examples of early patent drawings may be found online. There can be many explanations for decrease in the artfulness of the drawings. Possibly most importantly, the patent office no longer requires the drawings to be prepared by a professional draftsman. Further, the patent office changed its standards so that the main requirements are simply the ability of the drawings to convey the invention to the examiner and the ability of the drawings to be reproduced for production. Early drawings also had the advantage of using color to display detail; however, with the shift in importance to reproducibility, color drawings are now only allowed by filing a petition to explain to the examiner why the invention cannot be accurately described without color and by paying an extra fee.
Corresponding to the decreased emphasis on the drawings, the importance of the patent claims has increased. Today, most applications focus on claims with the drawings lending support. Patent drawings can also provide a back-up for the specification section. If something is inadvertently omitted from the description, the patent attorney may still be able to include the matter in the claims if it is shown in the drawings. Accurate drawings can save a patent application from omissions in the disclosure.
The drawings can be objected to at many stages of the application, from the initial processing stage to the publication stage after the application is allowed. When objection occurs, the patent office will issue a notice that corrected drawings must be supplied. Normally, the applicant will have two months to produce suitable replacement drawings or the application will be abandoned. Depending on the stage of the application, the type of objection can vary. At the early stages, the processing unit may reject the drawings for basic rule infractions like margins, paper size, numbering, or fonts. During the prosecution stage, the types of objections normally involve omissions or errors in the drawings related to what was disclosed in the specification. Post-allowance objections are most often related to reproducibility concerns. Even the most experienced patent attorney rarely knows all the drawing rules, which is why most rely upon the expertise of the draftsman.
While drawings may have changed over the years, their importance to the patent application cannot be overlooked. Besides the benefits mentioned above, awesome drawings make for an awesome looking patent document for the inventor to display.