Patent specifications, which are also known as disclosures, are written descriptions of inventions. Every patent specification, whether provisional or complete, has to sufficiently describe the invention. Each section of a specification – whether field of invention, summary, detailed description, claims, abstract or drawings – has its own importance and plays a vital role during the life of the patent.
Among these sections, the drawings or patent illustrations may appear to be the simplest part of the specification. However, illustrations are not easy to prepare, as they require precision and specialized knowledge and are governed by conventions and rules.
Patent illustrations are diagrammatic representations of an invention. They are required to elucidate the various elements of the claimed invention, and how it functions, where these cannot be conveyed by textual description alone.
This basic rule applies to all important patent systems in the US and in Europe. The purpose of the drawings is to give the patent examiner a clear idea of what the invention is, and to review the parts of an invention and their interconnection.
The drawings must show every feature of the invention specified in the claims. In other words, as stated in the case of Vas-Cath Inc v Mahurkar, 1991, “Drawings constitute an adequate description if they describe what is claimed and convey to those of the skill in the art that the patentee actually invented what is claimed”.
The United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit has frequently consulted drawings in order to determine what the opinion of a person skilled in the art would be based on the disclosure made in the patent application.
Well-developed illustrations provide a basis for determining whether the text description adequately explains and supports the claimed invention.
Detailed drawings are indeed worth a thousand words; if something is accidentally omitted from the written disclosure, the drawings may redress the lack, provided they are detailed enough to convey the necessary information about the invention. This means that the best way to broaden the scope of any application is to file the application with multiple, detailed and professionally drawn illustrations.
Generally a patent specification is accompanied by several sheets of drawings, each sheet having multiple views of the invention. Various patent statutes specify the size of the sheet on which the drawing is to be made, the margins to be left and other technical details relating to the making of the diagrams.
In general, inclusion of text is not permitted on a drawing unless it is a flow diagram. Numbers are used to indicate the various parts of a product and such numbers are referred to in the description (and sometimes in the claims also).
Further, patent drawings need to be clear and uncluttered and should not, in general, include any markings indicating the dimensions or materials used, since these may limit the scope of protection to those dimensions or materials.
The drawings must also be readily understandable by persons using the patent descriptions. Reference to the patent drawings will sometimes clarify what is meant by a claim within the specification.
Demand for precision
With more then 450,000 patent applications filed annually in the US alone, the need to obtain good quality drawings poses a challenge to inventors, corporate IP teams and IP lawyers alike, especially when dealing with competition and managing deadlines imposed by clients and patent offices.
Patent draftsmen often need to focus their time and energy on the demanding rules, regulations and processes governing patent preparation, and find it difficult to meet the technical requirements for drawings, even if they are using professional drawing software for the task. It is of immense help if a professional patent illustrator is engaged to provide scrupulous and technically accurate drawings that will be accepted by the patent office.
With a global requirement of more then 500,000 drawings annually, patent illustration has led to the emergence of a separate service line in the outsourcing world. People skilled in developing patent illustrations as well as patent law can be engaged to solve the dilemma of draftsmen, saving money on professional attorney hours and obtaining a superior result in terms of illustration quality. The benefit received from outsourcing professional patent illustrations is well worth the investment.
Mohammed Faisal is an engineer and patent professional at Clairvolex Knowledge Processes, a Delhi-based legal outsourcing firm.
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