Episode 7: How illustrators help applicants show how an invention works

Lisa Desjardins (LD): You're listening to Canadian IP Voices, a podcast where we talk intellectual property with a range of professionals and stakeholders across Canada and abroad. Whether you are an entrepreneur, artist, inventor or just curious, you will learn about some of the real problems and get real solutions for how trademarks, patents, copyrights, industrial designs and trade secrets work in real life.

I'm Lisa Desjardins, and I'm your host.

The views and opinions expressed in this podcast are those of the individual podcasters and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Canadian Intellectual Property Office.

Many of us have probably heard about patents. Many inventions are protected by describing the invention in what we call a patent application. The patent application typically includes a lot of text describing the invention and what kind of problem it has solved. It also contains the name of the inventors and a very specific section describing exactly the parts of the invention that are protected: the claims.

Did you ever hear that a picture is worth 1,000 words? Well, maybe that's true. Understanding an invention by simply reading the text in it can be hard, and in fact, a drawing or several drawings are required by patent offices when they are necessary for the understanding of the invention or designs. So who makes these drawings? Well, with us today in this podcast is Darpan Patel, who worked as a patent draftsman at BCF, which is a business law firm in Montreal. Welcome to Canadian IP Voices Darpan!

Darpan Patel (DP): Hi. Thank you, Lisa.

LD: I'm really looking forward to having this conversation with you. Before we start, can you tell me a little bit about yourself and the kind of work that you've done as a patent draftsman?

DP: Sure! I started off is as a technical illustrator and a drafter. I did a computer drafting program at Herzing College and I started off my career as a patent draftsman for BCF Business Law. So they hired me to pretty much illustrate all the patent drawings, any that were filed. For the first time in my life, it was when they hired me that I learned about patents and drawings that are involved in patents. So for me, it was a whole new career path and it was a whole new experience just to learn, one, about patents in general and, secondly, to know that there's a whole new career path and profession that involves patents and illustrators.

LD: You got really thrown right into the core of it. For someone who has never seen a patent application, even though they're available online for free, can you explain the most important functions of the patent drawings part in the patent?

DP: For the patent drawings, they usually have to be really precise in terms of what you're illustrating and what we're drawing because it has to convey to the reader exactly the technology or design that's being patented. So, based on if it's an industrial design, it's more about the looks, what style it is, and there's certain requirements that have to be fulfilled in order for the applications to pass.

Versus like utility patents. They're more focused on the technology aspect. So not so much the look of the part, but more about the mechanical engineering aspects and what the inventor is actually wanting to protect. There was a big jump for me to learn the two different styles of patents because, based on it, I had to adjust my standards of drawing. For example, industrial design patents would involve shading. You could add some hatching lines to create depth and curves. Whereas, for utility patents, there was no shading. You could add hidden lines, which we call them. If it's a part that's hidden behind a solid surface, they would be dashed lines. Whereas in industrial designs, we can't use those line types. So this involved a whole new different standards of drawing. So for me that was a big thing to learn about.

LD: And patents are very technical. In fact, they can be very, very technical with many, many drawings and figures to describe them, and I imagine that you've been working closely with inventors from a whole range of different fields. And I can also imagine that these were inventors that have worked in their fields many years, they were true experts on what they do. And so there you are, new to the patenting process and maybe perhaps new to the technology as well. Can you tell me about the process of how you've been translating and being exposed to really technical functions, but you transfer and translate those into drawings. How do you do it?

DP: A lot of it came from, I think, a bit of basic knowledge. I was always willing to learn and I like reading, reading up on new technology. Every time there was a new patent that an inventor would send, first of all, the patent agents were well experienced, the ones I worked with, and they would give me a briefing of the basics on the basis of the technology and then I would look at a lot of prior art based on what the inventor wanted to protect. Reading prior art, I learned a lot of the vocabulary. A lot of self-learning and reading. I did a bit of mechanical engineering in the past, so that really helped me in terms of the mechanical patents that involved, for example, gears, studs, belts, belt systems, pulley systems, things like those. A lot of it was just prior researching and willing to be out there and do your own research on the client's project.

LD: You have a professional diploma in computer-aided design and drafting, and you've worked at a law firm as a patent draftsman. What would you say to someone who's trying to do their own patent drawing?

DP: I would say I think what's the most important is your client, right? So if I'm a patent drafter and an inventor comes to me to showcase their invention or for their patent, I think it's really important to create clean drawings for them and have a quick turnover rate because they want to patent their thing as soon as possible. They don't want to wait an extra year or extra few months because maybe a week delay in the long run could cause them to lose their placeholder for their filing applications. Also, being clear and perfect with your margins because you don't want the inventor to come back to you and say this got denied due to my drawing, due to the drawing—it wasn't up to standard. If margins are off then they won't allow it, if line types are not correct, they won't allow it. If there's any ambiguity from the patent office, then the patent will be denied, right? So, I think there's a lot of organization that comes in. Also time is of the essence, but also, at the same time, you have to be very good with the quality that you put out and that you deliver on time.

LD: It's like you say, it's a race of first to file.

DP: Right.

LD: You can't be fiddling too much with those drawings, I guess?

DP: Yeah, we try to give maximum a week. It depends on the type of projects. Some of them, I would get in the morning and they would request them in the afternoon. And we also had to take into account the applications that are being filed in like China or in Europe, so there's a 6-hour delay. A lot of our deadlines came between 12 and 1 o'clock, which was the end of the day for that side of the world.

LD: I've seen patent drawings with callout, with numbers. What's the most number of numbers, what's the highest number of the—what do you call them, the little callouts?

DP: Yes, they're called callouts. Pretty much on a lot of patent drawings you'll see the callouts with the squiggly lines. A lot of the callouts have to be the squiggly line so they stand out from the drawing, and placing those is quite a challenge, and sometimes you'd go from 10 to 110. And to just keep that organized and also make sure you don't miss one number and that you're pointing at the correct part, right? If, for example, a spring is involved in the drawing and it's number 5 in the write-up, but then on the drawing, you make it number 10, then that's not good.

LD: No, that's not.

DP: It's not good.

LD: And on a slightly more serious note then. The drawings that you make, they have the potential to describe an invention really quite well, but this is at a stage before it's protected, before the inventor has the formal protection. So, I can imagine that there's a bit of secrecy here, right? These stories are actually quite secret, aren't they?

DP: Many of them are. And for me, because I worked under a law firm that was very credible and everything was by the book, when they would tell the inventors or the clients that "We have a draftsman with that works for us and he'll do it for you," the trust is already there, so having a legit name to your business If I were to tell you that, oh, I meet you on the street, and I say, "Oh I'm Darpan Patel. I'm an illustrator. Tell me your invention. I'll do it for you." I think that comes off a bit less legit, I would say. Rather than someone who actually has a drawing corporation name or a legit filed business. I feel all that adds a little bit more trust as a client when you're looking for someone to illustrate your ideas. There are of course NDA forms that can be signed, and as a patent drafter, if I was a freelancer, I would always let the client file whatever legal forms they would like in order for them to feel comfortable.

LD: Yeah, the non-disclosure agreements and so on that you would probably have with anyone that you discuss your invention with anyways.

DP: Right, yeah.

LD: Now you've done a lot of drawings in all kinds of fields. You must have a professional little highlight or funny fail that you can share, do you?

DP: Yeah, I had one time. This one wasn't very…. I don't think it was a patent, but it was part of one of the client's requests. And me being me, of course I would say yes to everything. They wanted me to draw a gooseneck. It's like it's a wheat bag that they fill up and there's a method of tying the bags, which is called "goose necking." And I've never heard of that term! And so it was maybe 5 or 6 emails of them trying in words to explain to me what goose necking is. And I'll do my best here, but long story short, apparently you take the top of the four corners of the bags, you twist them. And then you kind of fold it on itself and then wrap the end around. That's what I was given. That was the information I was given. So then I had to draw that. And I'm like, "Okay, I don't know what that is." So I started Googling. I found some examples of what goose necking is. Apparently, it's a method of tying bags to secure them. And it was just a weird thing, a weird experience for me. And some clients would request sometimes…we'd have to draw hands in their drawings, holding a tool or a torque wrench. And I'm not, as much as I'm a technical illustrator, I am a technical illustrator but not an artist. It's very weird.

LD: So your hands were what, like square? [Laughter]

DP: My hands were, I think, I think they were happy with it eventually, but it took me a few times. I did hand sketches at first. I went on Google, how to draw hands, watched a couple of YouTube videos and just a lot of self-learning. And eventually I got it, and they were happy with it! So I think I did pretty good!

LD: You probably did, if they passed. [Laughter]

DP: They haven't called me back. [Laughter]

LD: That's good! So if I'm an inventor and I'm trying to, I don't know…I've got this invention in mind and I think I should file for a patent. Do I have to run around now trying to find a patent draftsman? Or how does it work in reality?

DP: For most people, to hire a patent agent is the number one thing to do just because they know what they're doing and they're highly qualified. Most patent agents do have someone already under them or that they go to for their illustrations. I know many patent agents where I work, they all came to me, but they also had companies that they outsourced the work to. And many of those companies are very quick on turnovers. They're very reputable companies. And there's also many freelancing websites out there. If you search patent draftsmen on any freelancing websites, you will find a lot of people out there putting out their services.

LD: Darpan, it's been great to have you with us. Thanks for sharing your stories and thanks for letting us learn a little bit more about what the patent world includes and the kind of work that a patent draftsman does. Thank you!

DP: Thank you, no it's my pleasure. For me, it was something that was new when I first started drafting. And I hope everyone can learn a little bit more every time. I think what you guys are doing is great.

LD: Thank you, thanks again.

DP: Thank you.

LD: You've listened to Canadian IP Voices, where we explore intellectual property. In this episode, you met with Darpan Patel, who has experience as a patent draftsman. Darpan explained the importance of having good patent drawings and how working with qualified people can improve a patent application and make it easier to understand. If you want to get in touch with a professional to draft your patent application, visit IPIC.ca. Search for an agent near you. Don't forget that patent databases and images are available online for free. To look at Canadian patents, visit Canada.ca/find-patents, enter a search term and click on representative drawing for a peek on patent drawings.