Drawing Patent Figures on the iPad

Patent Figures need to be simple. Most are drawn using one of the Microsoft triumvirate: Word, PowerPoint or Visio. These are neither perfect nor cheap. They also have limited support on mobile devices or other platforms. Here I will consider two alternatives.

Grafio for iPad

From a quick Google this appeared to be a high-ranking drawing app. It is £5.99 with additional small charges for extra shape sets (one at £2.99 and several below £1 – even if you bought all shape sets total cost is only around £15). Full version is: here. You can download a “Lite” version to play around with before buying.


  • Gesture recognition – draw a shape and it will convert into the nearest standard.
  • PNG (with background transparency), JPG or PDF export.
  • Cheap – although £5.99 is “expensive” for iPad apps it is cheap as compared to desktop software licences (£££s for Microsoft products) or subscription services (see next product below).
  • Simple and clean user interface – navigation is very quick to learn and intuitive, much easier than Microsoft desktop products. There is a low cognitive burden on the user (as they say).
  • Auto-alignment and snap-to-grid work well – comparable to but somehow less crowded than PowerPoint 2013.
  • Selection of objects, grouping and ordering is a breeze – touch is much better than mouse input for this.
  • A4 sizes available.
  • Local storage.
  • Gesture recognition requires relatively precise drawing. I found this required relatively straight lines for a rectangle – many of my “rectangles” we’re converted into custom shapes rather than quadrilaterals. I did improve with practice though.
  • No editable export. However, I believe Visio export is on the feature wishlist and is in progress.
  • Possibly no auto-distribute (e.g. vertically for flow chart boxes).


I seem to look LucidChart every year. Previously I decided that the subscription model was too expensive for the limited number of advantages over the triumvirate. Also many of the features were overkill for patent Figures. However, a number of improvements merit a longer look this time.


  • Cross platform support via the browser.
  • Offsite centralised storage.
  • Wireframing and user interface mock-ups useful for computer-implemented inventions.
  • iPad auto-shape recognition more robust than Grafio.
  • Price – a basic plan is £26/year ($40); a more useful plan with user interface wire framing and Visio import/export is £65 ($100). This is expensive for something I would not use everyday (cf. Spotify at £10/month and Netflix at £6/month).
  • “Cloud” storage – even though this is typically more secure than company email it is still seen as high-risk. It may thus be more difficult to obtain approval from IT for use.
  • No native iPad app – even though there should be no difference we all know that native apps offer better stability and features.  Update: There is now a native iPad app available. I will see if I can give it a run.
  • It was not clear how to change properties on the iPad web-interface (e.g. group items or change line types).

In the end Grafio wins out – mainly for simplicity and a good price/feature point. I am going to download it. If they proceed with improvements (SVG-out would be great) at the current pace, then it will only get better with time.

The Kindle & the Business of Patent Law

Fed up with waiting for the infinitely-delayed Plastic Logic Que I took the plunge and bought a Kindle 2.

The Kindle is excellent for reading novels on the go but is it any use in the practice of patent law?


The 2.5 Kindle software update (which appears to be the basis of the software for Kindle 3) has a basic, yet functioning, PDF Viewer. This helps. Most official patent documentation comes in PDF format. You can also convert PDF files to the native Kindle file format using either Amazon’s free conversion service (email [your log-in name]@free.kindle.com with file attached) or using a free publishing application.

Certain documents are (just about) readable on the 6″ screen without zoom. These include the UK Formalities Manual, the UK Patents Act & Rules, and the EPO Guidelines. The text is roughly US-specification size. You also have the option to rotate the screen to a landscape configuration. This allows the UK Manual of Patent Practice to become readable (although a page is split into 3 or more parts). However, other documents like the EPO’s National Law Compendium are unreadable due to the small font size in full-screen mode and inadequate zoom (a page splits into many parts arranged both vertically and horizontally).

Picture of UK Formalities Manual Picture of EPO Guidelines

The main advantage of the Kindle is its eInk screen.  I have always found that LCD screens and monitors quickly burn out my eyes. The eInk screen is much easier to read without tiring. Try staring at a monitor for twenty minutes then staring at an etch-a-sketch for twenty minutes; that will give a good impression of the advantages of eInk.

For business documents the ideal screen-size is A4. However, the number of A4-sized eInk readers is limited. The best of the bunch is probably the Kindle DX, however, its weight and size make it unwieldy and at $379 it costs $200 more than the Kindle 3 (wi-fi only priced at an amazingly low £109 in the UK). It is interesting to note that many promising A4 eReaders from CES in January have now fallen by the wayside, including the Que and the Skiff. This makes the Kindle 3 a good stand-in while the A4 (and hopefully touch-screen) technologies come to market (I expect Christmas 2010 if the Kindle 3 is a success).

I will keep you updated as to my eReader adventures.