Patent figures are illustrations that accompany a patent application to show the examiner the specifications of the patent. Utility and design patents both require illustrations, and certain other kinds of patent applications may be supported by figures as well. Many applicants hire a professional drafter to create the drawings, as they need to be detailed and of high quality. It is also possible to prepare patent figures independently. A patent attorney can help an applicant determine if figures are necessary and how they should be prepared.
The patent figures must abide by the rules for patent applications in the given region. Most agencies want drawings in black ink only, unless color is absolutely necessary. Photographs are generally not allowable unless they are the only way to document a patentable idea. For instance, microscopy photographs may accompany a biotechnology patent to provide images of an organism or process. Regulations can vary, especially if an inventor plans to submit a patent to multiple agencies.
Sets of patent figures show the invention from multiple angles, drawn to scale, with clear labeling. The labels illustrate the different parts and provide information about the dimensions and specifications. These drawings can demonstrate the unique nature of the invention and will be an important part of the materials the examiner reviews while deciding whether to grant the patent. The patent office may make copies over the course of processing the application, and it is important to supply a crisp, readable original that will copy well.
Applicants may work with a drafter if they are not confident and comfortable with their drawing skills. The drafter can be asked to sign a nondisclosure agreement to prevent information about the patent from leaking out. Drafters may draw their patent figures by hand or with a computer. The end result can be presented in digital or hard copy format along with the rest of the application. It can also be part of the documentation the company uses in discussions with manufacturers, promotional materials, and other communications about the product.
Patent agencies maintain files of patent applications and their outcomes. Researchers with an interest in historical inventions may be able to look up the original patent and drawings to see what its inventor visualized when he first submitted the application. Historic drawings can be a valuable resource for historians as well as patent researchers, people who pore through documentation to determine if a new patent is truly novel and entitled to protections.