Better Patent Applications through Better Patent Figures

The United States Patent and Trademark Office reviews around half a million patent applications each year, and the agency approves these applications at a rate of roughly 50 per cent year to year. The level of execution of many elements of the application can lead to the pass or failure of the patent. One such piece of the application, the patent figures section, a visual layout of the patent’s design intent, is sometimes neglected.

From time to time, our Trig PDQ division receives patent drawings that have caused an office action on the patent application. We get requests to correct fuzzy, poorly illustrated figures that caused the USPTO’s rejection, and thus have added considerable cost and headache to the applicant. Compared to our work in the more expressive industrial design projects where creativity and artistic interpretation drives the 3D CAD sculpting, drafting patent figures require a different level of attention to detail to make sure the figures accurately represent the claims and comply with USPTO standards. 

For designers to assist intellectual property attorneys properly there is a learning curve.  Unlike the more subjective role of design in co-creating the rules governing a visual brand language, patent figures have a more defined visual script with specific rules for treating line art.  We not only carefully follow the USPTO Drawing Guide to make sure the figures adhere to professional standards, but also take note of individual patent attorney’s preferences to seamlessly integrate with larger patent applications.  Trained illustrators thus ensure that the figures are publication-ready for both utility patents and design patents.

In addition to finding the right talent that has been trained for the task, it is also important to have the right software tools.  At Trig PDQ, we use vector-based illustration tools to ensure accurate, clean lines on all of our patent figures.  Not only are the vector files clean, they are much smaller and easier to transfer among designers, intellectual property attorneys and staff, and the patent applicant.  Typically, we see a huge difference in file size—for example, you might see a vector file at 100KB versus a 2MB rasterized figure that had been scanned in from a hand-drawn illustration.

The process of bringing new products to market is difficult enough.  Like most things in life, it’s better when you don’t create your own problems.  With the knowledge that the USPTO rejects almost half of the applications it sees each year; applicants will be wise to work with seasoned IP attorneys and their trusted partners to make sure that the patent is weighed on its own merits, and not handicapped by cutting corners on the application itself.

Samantha Harr