Not Your Grandpa’s Patent Drafting anymore: The Brave New World of Patent Illustration

About a decade ago a shiver went through the community of Technical Illustrators who might otherwise qualify individually as a Patent Draftsman when the news was let out that the USPTO had handed down a ruling that it was suspending most of the formal rules that had governed the appearance of all Patent Drawings for a couple hundred years prior. Up until the advent of the affordable desktop computer workstation in the mid 1980s all Patent Drawings were executed with black India Ink on white Bristol Board, a stiff, almost card stock that was durable, shiny and very hard to erase and correct. Like so many of the rights whose protection is guaranteed by the US Constitution, Patent Law and even the concept of the right to protect one’s Intellectual Property from appropriation by those to whom it did not belong, the Founding Fathers could have no more conceived of the explosion of technology to be protected and the new means to illustrate it any more than they could imagine the flintlock musket would someday evolve into the AR-15 or a rocket propelled grenade launcher fired from the shoulder by Afghan rebels into Soviet helicopters. We’ve come a long way, Baby.

I don’t think I’m alone in feeling like this new ruling was the death knell for our profession. Just a couple of decades into the technology of CAD and printing techniques that would revolutionize Patent Drawing (and every other form of Illustration) came the absurd notion that things didn’t really need to be all that accurate or aesthetically appealing after all. Now a Patent Attorney could take a martini lunch with his client inventor and have him sketch his ideas on a cocktail napkin, and as long as it was reasonably legible and could be placed onto the photocopy machine it could pass muster as a Patent Drawing. I thought: has the whole world gone insane? Here we are on the verge of being able to render almost anything we can imagine using SolidWorks or the like and have it appear from any perspective we like and have it look as though it really exists even though it lives only on a hard drive somewhere until we load it into memory and “print” it to a PDF file or a color printer.

So let me get this straight. The rules of the USPTO embrace a “technology” of illustration several hundred years old, does not permit grayscale shading or anything else that departs from solid black lines on white paper, and it refuses to move into even the 20th century and embrace the possibilities for techniques of illustration that were inconceivable when Paul Revere was riding his horse, Trigger, instead of a Camaro Z-28 to rally the minutemen.

To add insult to injury, this ruling began to take effect right about the time that began the Great Outsourcing to India almost anything from computer tech support and Patent Drawing to Victoria’s Secret underwear and the same imperial hypocrisy that the British could not enforce onto the natives not for lack of trying. Once again, money talks. The rush to abandon anything made in the USA by Americans erupted like Bill O’Reilly and Jon Stewart on last night’s Daily Show. Suddenly Everything was being shipped out somewhere, anywhere else to be made, serviced, recycled and made obsolete. China, Korea, Vietnam (maybe feeling a little guilty, are we?), Honduras, Jamaica, Taiwan, or Bangladesh. For no apparent reason other than money, American made Anything was just no damn good anymore, and look at how cheap we could now get it! Never mind that American ingenuity had led the entire world for most of what we describe as civilization regardless of whether it deserves that apellation according to one’s opinion this week. The fact is: we invented it. All of it. We invented invention. Or at least we made it into the technological monolith it has become, for better or worse. Maybe our supreme lack of expertise is really in the arena of hanging on to what we got. Don’t it always seem to go…