Patent Illustrations

2010 February 8
by Joe Johnston

Being a design engineer, there is a particular form of art that I have come to admire: patent and trademark illustration. It is a rather tightly defined sort of art — defined by the US Patent and Trademark Office in Section 1.84 of the Manual of Patent Examining Procedure. Line widths, margins, paper size, and numerous other standards are set forth. The basic idea is to create a legible, easily understood drawing that illustrates what the text of the patent describes verbally. Furthermore, the rules are intended to make black ink drawings (required) easily reproducible.

It is interesting that a certain artistic style developed that is common to patent illustrations that is not required by the rules. It is characterized by heavy lines, shading, flowing “pointer” lines, and certain font styles. The style is easy to recognize even when taken out of context. I happen to love the style. Reading the text of the patent, which is also in a very unusual format, combined with examining the drawings is a fun exercise for the inventive type.

Below is a detail view of a patent illustration by my great-grandfather, Herbert L. Johnston, for a mechanism for a commercial mixer…

This is the primary illustration of the invention, showing the patent date, number, and the signature of the inventor…

And this is the machine, itself at Liberty Market. It was built in 1934 and is currently used daily by Herbert’s great-great-grandson to make pizza dough…

2 Responses
  1. February 9, 2010

    Great article. I’ve been a patent illustrator for over ten years and it’s nice to know a design engineer respects our work.

    • February 10, 2010

      It is a work of art. An art with rules that constrain, but somehow there is that certain style that tells you it is a patent illustration. In some ways it is like the artwork for currency. I find them comforting, that there are people with ideas that want express them publicly and make them a reality. Keep up the good work.

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