Can’t draw a straight line? Don’t worry, new computer programs can. Better yet, they can erase them.

You’ve invented something wonderful. You’ve even prepared rough sketches and the written part of the patent application yourself, saving thousands of dollars by not hiring a patent attorney or agent to do the work for you. Now, there’s one more hurdle, and it looks pretty intimidating: preparing the drawings that must accompany your application and fully disclose the invention’s structure. You’re no draftsman, much less an artist. Have you reached the end of the do-it-yourself road?

Many inventors turn the job of preparing drawings over to a professional draftsperson. This can be costly. Typically, you’ll pay $75 to $150 per sheet of patent drawings, each of which may contain several figures or drawings. Because most patent applications have two or more sheets of drawings, you can easily shell out many hundreds of dollars per patent application.

Fortunately, if you can do the patent application, you can probably do the patent drawings yourself, too. You’ll need to learn some Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) rules, and there’s a certain learning curve. But there are many rewards. In addition to saving a ton of money on the application, you will be able to prepare promotional brochures for prospective manufacturers or customers.

And because you know your invention best, you may be able to render your invention more accurately than a hired professional. By doing your own drawings, you do not have to make someone else understand your invention, or send drawings back and forth for corrections. Finally, you will have the great satisfaction of completing the entire patent application by yourself – an impressive accomplishment for an inventor.

The Old Ways

The traditional way of making patent drawings is with pen and ruler. The basic tools are inexpensive, but drawing is fairly difficult because you must use India ink. There is little room for mistakes; except for very small marks, it is difficult to correct misplaced ink lines. Also, you must learn basic drawing techniques, especially how to draw perspective views that show all the features of your invention. One trick that helps for some inventions is to trace photographs.

If your invention shows up well in a photograph, you can pay the PTO an extra fee and submit photos. Although you won’t need drawing skills, you must have some photographic ones, including a basic understanding of lighting and exposure. A snapshot is not enough. You will need a tripod and a 35mm camera with selectable aperture, and zoom and macro (close-up) lenses.

Computers to the Rescue

If you are artistically and photographically challenged, modern computer-aided drawing (CAD) programs are close to miraculous. They let you produce accurate drawings even if you qualify as a certified drafting dunce. In fact, you don’t need any drawing skills in the traditional sense. And you can correct mistakes as easily as you correct typos with a word processor.

If you know how to type letters on your computer, you can learn to draw with it. You will need either a PC (IBM compatible) or a Mac, and an ink jet or laser printer. You’ll also, of course, need a CAD program; suitable ones are available for one to several hundred dollars. Optional but helpful equipment includes a scanner and digital camera.

If you have a scanner, you can scan a photograph and import the scanned image into a CAD program. If you have a digital camera, you can photograph the object and transfer the image directly to your computer through a cable. Once it’s there, tracing it is easy. Because you use a mouse instead of a pen, you don’t even need a steady hand.

You can also use a CAD program to draw your invention from scratch. For this, you’ll be better off with a program that lets you construct a three-dimensional representation of your invention by using and modifying geometric building blocks. You can then manipulate the model to produce different views and perspectives and submit the printed results to the PTO.

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