Patent Illustrations and Invention Drawings, What do you Need?

Over the years I have worked with many inventors as they seek to move forward with their inventions. As a patent attorney it is no great surprise that the overwhelming number of individuals I have worked with are interested in filing a patent application and ultimately obtaining a patent. Filing a patent application necessitates have drawings to include in the application, but patent drawings are not the only type of “drawings” that an inventor should be considering. Patent illustrations are wonderful for a patent application, but they don’t always do the invention justice if you are trying to capture the attention of a prospective licensee, or if you are trying to convince a buyer to place orders or sell the invention in their store.

Simply stated, patent illustrations and other types of invention drawings, such as 3D renderings and photo realistic virtual prototypes serve different purposes.  For example, take a look at the figure below, provided courtesy of Enhance Product Development, a product development company with a great deal of experience licensing and developing products in consumer markets.  The patent illustration is on the left, and a branded, photo realistic virtual prototype is shown on the right.  Which do you think would better capture the attention of a prospective licensee?

Of course, the patent drawing contains reference numerals that are used by the patent attorney as the Detailed Description is drafted.  The point of the Detailed Description is to describe what is shown in the figures (at a minimum).  This is done in writing as if the reader is standing next to you as you describe what the figure shows.  You use the reference numerals to draw the attention of the reader to the part of the figure you are discussing at any given time.  That, however, is noise when you are trying to capture the attention of a prospective licensee.


Additionally, with patent drawings you can show exploded views (see figure below) that allow you to show how the piece and parts fit together.  This enables the patent attorney to describe how to make the invention step by step, which is not only a good idea but a requirement of a patent application.  Of course, such exploded views invariably focus on the internal, not the external.  Will a prospective licensee really be concerned, at least in the first instance, about the internal workings?  In all likelihood the answer is no.  They will be concerned with whether the invention works, yes, but what will grab them is the visual presentation of a real and tangible product.

Taken from U.S. Patent No. 5,839,263, which relates to a lawn mower blade with replacement knives.

A patent applicant is required to furnish at least one patent drawing (sometimes referred to as a patent illustration) of the invention whenever the invention is capable of illustration by way of a drawing. Said another way, whenever a drawing would assist in the understanding of an invention you need at least one patent drawing. Based on my experience I can say that a patent drawing is almost always required, and even if it is not technically required you should have at least one patent drawing. Why take the chance that the patent examiner will require patent drawings? If you need a patent drawing and one is not provided in the original filing a non-provisional patent application you are not even awarded a filing date, which can be catastrophic. Thus, I urge inventors to understand the patent drawing requirement as being that the only time patent drawings are not required is when the invention relates to a chemical compound or composition. Cautious advice, but better safe than sorry with drawings in my opinion.

Detailed drawings are indeed worth one thousand words, if not more. This is true because if you accidentally leave something out of the written disclosure, a drawing you submit may save you in the long run, provided of course it is detailed enough to convey nuanced information about your invention. Because the detail of the patent drawing is what saves you, having a professional patent illustrator is quite wise. Without question, the best way to broaden the scope of any application is to file the application with multiple, detailed and professional drawings. The benefit received from professional patent illustration is well worth the investment.

So you should rush off to a patent illustrator and get your invention illustrated with numerous drawings showing a variety of views from different vantage points, right? To quote Lee Corso of ESPN College Football Gameday fame – Not so fast my friend!

What if you could get initial illustrations that can be used for multiple different purposes? That would make the most sense because it is more economical, and you can if you work with someone that does 3D rendering.

According to Mike Store, an Industrial Designer with Enhance Product Development, “The reality is that completing product development, through design, engineering, tooling, etc is very expensive and isn’t feasible for the average inventor with a great idea. Our services seek to key in on developing a feasible product by fleshing it out with the inventor, designing it in CAD.”  In fact, if you look at the image below which shows the Enhance process, Enhance start with the inventor concept and move on to concept sketching before engaging in 3D CAD product development.

From the 3D CAD renderings a photo realistic virtual prototype is created, which can then be branded and added to the sell sheet. By following this process the 3D CAD renderings can be output as line drawings that make exceptionally good patent illustrations, at least for a provisional patent application where the focus is disclosure. The Patent Office will never examine a provisional patent application, so none of the picky patent drawing rules will be enforced against provisional patent drawings. Therefore, you just need to have quality line drawings for a provisional patent application. Once the 3D CAD renderings are done as many drawings as you want can be output, from various rotated viewpoints, as well as a variety of close-up views.

True, patent drawings must show every feature of the invention specified in the claims, and for a non-provisional patent application they are required to be in a particular form. The Patent Office specifies the size of the drawing sheet on which the illustration is made, the type of paper, the margins, and many other hyper-technical details relating to the making of the drawings, including shading and size of text if present. The reason for specifying the standards in detail is that the drawings are printed and published in a uniform style when the patent issues, and the drawings must also be such that they can be readily understood by persons using the patent descriptions. But none of these rules apply to provisional patent drawings, and the focus of a provisional patent application is to demonstrate the entirety of the invention. What better way to do that than with numerous drawings that have been output after a 3D CAD rendering? Thus, the 3D CAD rendering becomes for focal point for allowing the inventor to obtain all of the types of illustrations they will need initially.

As you move forward to the photo realistic virtual prototyping, which is anywhere from 10 to 100 times cheaper than developing a single real-world prototype, the creation of the “sell sheet” becomes critical for those who are looking to license their invention. Trevor Lambert, President of Lambert & Lambert, a group of licensing specialists that work on a contingency basis, explains:

Our sell sheets feature the product design developed through 3D CAD software with large photo-realistic rendered images of the product. Commonly we will even brand the product with the potential licensee’s brand, so each sell sheet is tailored for a specific licensee. This allows the decision makers to visualize what the product would look like fully developed under their product line. This becomes a powerful sales tool and something I refer to as a “psychological bridge” that we have found greatly improves the license success rate.

With your invention the ultimate goal is to make money.  To make money requires one to spend money, but you absolutely have to do that wisely so that you do not run out of funds halfway through a project.  Inventors need to create a budget and do the most they can with the money they have to spend.  If your goal is to attract a licensing deal you need to make your invention as real as possible.  Creating a virtual prototype that can be added to a sell sheet and circulated is definitely a winning strategy.  The fact that the steps toward that strategy will give you a plethora of patent drawings to include in a provisional patent filing is a bonus!  After all, you are likely going to need to file the provisional patent application in order to take the first steps toward securing exclusive rights.  That way you have something tangible to license in terms of visual presentation and in terms of intellectual property protection.

Happy inventing!


Warning & Disclaimer: The pages, articles and comments on do not constitute legal advice, nor do they create any attorney-client relationship. The articles published express the personal opinion and views of the author as of the time of publication and should not be attributed to the author’s employer, clients or the sponsors of

Join the Discussion

6 comments so far.

  • [Avatar for Gene Quinn]
    Gene Quinn
    February 16, 2014 11:35 am


    It sounds to me like you are trying to add new matter, but not being intimately familiar with your application I can’t know for sure. If you are trying to add new matter the way to go about this (generally speaking) is to file a continuation-in-part. Of course, I can’t really tell you what you can or should be doing without knowing a lot more about your particular circumstance.


  • [Avatar for Lucy]
    February 15, 2014 05:48 pm

    Mr. Quinn, first I want to thank you for the information and guidance you provide through your website. It’s been a tremendous asset to me as I navigate the patenting process. I have a question about how specific the drawings need to be. I filed my non-provisional a while ago, and my current drawings show components of my device being angular in design. There is nothing in my specification indicating that those components of the device should or should not be angular. That said, the device I intend to actually market will have more rounded proportions to allow for more clearance when used in tighter spaces. Can I submit another drawing to show the device having more rounded proportions, or would this be considered new matter? Also, I mention a removable adapter in the specification, but do not describe its method of attachment at all. Can I illustrate the removable adapter in a drawing if the method is simple and rather obvious, such as dropping a peg into a hole? Thanks in advance.

  • [Avatar for Bob Strong]
    Bob Strong
    December 18, 2013 10:29 pm

    I really want to get a new invention like this. My brother and I could start a new company with one. It would be a lot of fun to start.

  • [Avatar for Inventia Patent]
    Inventia Patent
    August 18, 2012 03:54 pm

    I agree with Stan. We usually prepare drawings using SolidWorks not only to ensure consistency between the drawing views, but because you can use the models for marketing and promo material. Using SolidWorks, you can convert the drawings to most CAD formats and be done with them in no time. Add some shading and you’re good to go. Using 2D CAD software to prepare patent drawings is a thing of the past. Although we still use AutoCAD to add the shading for final formalization, we do most of the detailing in SolidWorks.

  • [Avatar for Mark Nowotarski]
    Mark Nowotarski
    September 12, 2011 09:53 am

    I dream of the day that the patent office will accept 3D renderings in patent applications. The cost of patent applications would plummet.

  • [Avatar for Stan E. Delo]
    Stan E. Delo
    September 11, 2011 12:37 pm

    Hi Gene-
    Great article about how to get from the illustrations you need that can also be used as marketing tools after the formal app has been filed. In my case a partner did a solidworks type of rendering, that he was able to send an activatable PDF of, which was a great help to my patent agent while he was preparing my non-provisional application. With this type of graphic, if you hover over the upper left, you can *Click to Activate*, which allows you to spin, rotate, zoom, pan and all the rest to look around the corners, so to speak, to see hidden details in a single document. My patent illustrator really loved it, and it saved him tons of time, and me a whole lot of money. We just had to convert the desired views to a DXF format so that he could edit line weights, shade them properly, and add numerals and change a few things that were not correct with a little input from myself. We did the original design in a few hours via a Skype call where he could show me his screen and we could debate various approaches to the engineering (Tom) and the invention’s functionality (myself) An additional benefit is that it will probably make a very good first impression on the examiner, which might help to expedite things a bit.