Everything You Need to Know About Intellectual Property Illustration

Intellectual property illustration are drawings that are used to support claims for the protection of different types of intellectual property.

In this article, we’ll learn about different types of intellectual property, and how illustrations are used to help provide protection for different types of intellectual property.

Intellectual Property Categories

There are four different forms of intellectual property: patents, copyrights, trademarks, and trade secrets. Each has different characteristics and offers different types of protection.

1. Patents

A patent does not give the inventor the right to make something. Rather, it’s what’s known as a “right to exclude.” The owner of the patent is the only entity allowed to make the object protected by the patent. If someone else makes it without permission, the owner of the patent can sue that party for patent infringement. 

Quite often patent owners will decide to license their patent to other parties rather than use the patent directly themselves.

There are three types of patents in the United States: utility patents, design patents, and plant patents.

Utility patents:

Utility patents provide protection for how something works. Utility patents are 

Issued for the invention of a new and useful process, machine, manufacture, or composition of matter, or a new and useful improvement thereof

“Composition of matter,” for example, includes drug patents. Patents are very important to the pharmaceutical industry, since companies invest tens of millions of dollars or more in developing new drugs which would be very easy for a competitor to manufacture.

Utility patents generally provide protection for twenty years after the date of the filing of the patent application.

According to the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO),

A patent application is required to contain drawings if drawings are necessary to understand the subject matter to be patented. Most patent applications contain drawings. The drawings must show every feature of the invention as specified in the claims.

Almost all patent applications include illustrations.

detail drawing cassette mechanism

Design Patents:

A design patent is available for “new, original, and ornamental design embodied in or applied to an article of manufacture.” Note that just a two-dimensional drawing by itself cannot be protected by a design patent (although it can be protected by copyright). For a design patent, the design needs to be applied to an article of manufacture, which could be anything from a smartphone to a coffee mug.

Design patents are valid for 15 years after the date they are granted.

The illustration is the claim in a design patent, so a drawing is mandatory.

design patent drawing

Plant Patents:

A plant patent may be issued for

a new and distinct, invented or discovered asexually reproduced plant including cultivated sports, mutants, hybrids, and newly found seedlings, other than a tuber propagated plant or a plant found in an uncultivated state

A plant patent is effective for 20 years after the date the application was filed.

Plant patents require illustration, which typically takes the form of a photograph, although types of drawings, such as a permanent watercolor drawing are also acceptable. The patent office says that such drawings “should be artistic and competent in their execution.”

plant patent drawing

2. Copyrights

Copyrights protect “original works of authorship.” Copyrights can protect anything from books and poems to computer programs, paintings, photographs, music, movies, and more.

The Supreme Court in the US has said that copyright must have at least a “modicum” of creativity, meaning a phone book can’t be copyrighted.

Copyright exists automatically as soon as the work is created. It is possible to register a copyright in order to make it easier to enforce the copyright in the event someone copies it without authorization.

Copyrights do not require illustrations, although an illustration or drawing is protected by copyright. 

3. Trademarks

According to the USPTO,

A trademark can be any word, phrase, symbol, design, or a combination of these things that identifies your goods or services. It’s how customers recognize you in the marketplace and distinguish you from your competitors.

Most commonly a trademark is the name of a business or a product offered by a business (iPhone is a registered trademark) or a logo or other unique identifying thing, such as Corning Owens’ color pink used in insulation. Interestingly, even a sound can be protected by a trademark. For example, the “NBC chimes” are trademarked. Harley Davidson tried to get a trademark for the sound of its motorcycle engines, but it was rejected because other manufacturers said it is simply the sound that the particular type of engine makes, and their engines make the same sound.

If the trademark is something visual, such as a logo, it must include an intellectual property illustration.

4. Trade Secret

Trade secrets are another type of intellectual property. Trade secrets are intellectual property that has economic value to a company, so the company makes an effort to keep the information secret.

Trade secrets can include things such as formulas, processes, designs, customer lists, etc. Companies protect their trade secrets by not disclosing them to people unless there is a non-disclosure agreement or other contractual obligation to keep the information secret.

Many trade secrets are things that could be eligible for patent protection, but the company chooses not to get a patent. The most famous example is the formula for Coca Cola. Coca Cola could have gotten a patent for the formula, but it chose not to because patents expire after 20 years, whereas trade secrets never expire. If Coca Cola had gotten a patent other companies could have freely copied the formula after 20 years. By relying on a trade secret instead, Coca Cola has been the only company that can make the product for over 130 years.

coca cola bottle

Intellectual Property Illustration Requirements

The requirements for patent and trademark drawings vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, but one thing they all have in common is the very exacting and precise requirements for the illustrations. The drawings must be submitted on specific types of paper, or in a specific electronic format, and there are rules governing everything from colours to the width of the lines, how shading is to be applied, and numbering schemes.

Conclusion

Illustrations are a necessary part of most patent and trademark applications. It is highly recommended to use the services of professional intellectual property illustrators for these critical drawings to avoid having your applications rejected by the patent office.

If you have any questions about patent or trademark drawings or have a project you would like us to quote on, please contact us