How Does It Work: Patents and Blueprints

What is the difference between patents and copyrights? If someone wants to reproduce an old firearm design, how do they get the rights to? Why can’t you reproduce a gun design from patent drawings? What information is in a technical data package? This and more, today on How Does It Work!


  1. The downside to Patents is that while they protect the patentee, they generally restrict overall development. Take the Colt patents, and the ridiculous Rollin-White patents for example. This does trow up some interesting concepts as designers try and circumvent the concept (Fordyce Beals walking beam Whitney etc), but overall hold back general firearms development.

    As for differences in Patent drawings and actual production items, one of the most curious is the Fosbery revolver, the original patent showing a conversion of a SAA.

  2. The difference between “design” in terms of “does this work” vs. “production engineered” so that the working design can then actually be produced in a factory economically and in quantity is something we might want to highlight, as well. I can think of multiple cases where promising prototype designs turned out to be essentially unbuildable when taken to production.

  3. Well explained by Ian. When patent rights validity is over and someone is interested to make that same (or close enough) product, he’s got two choices. One is to try to use Chinese method (screwdriver, calipers and hardness tester) – they actually do it even before patent ends – or go to original maker and buy technical data package (TDP).

    To buy TDP will cost you something, but you save yourself extra cost for development you’d have to do otherwise on your own. More ambitious entities may still go the way of interpreting the patent plus adding whatever they desire on top.

    It’s a funny world in its own right. And remember, lawyers call the shots. Money talks 🙂

    • “go to original maker and buy technical data package”
      But there might be cases, when originator is not willing to do so.

      • This typically applies for government sanctioned manufacturers of firearms who have resources and appropriate backing. For example, Colt Canada has recently purchased from FNH complete TDP to manufacture C6A1 (can. version of MAG58). Information to that extent was released into public domain, according to requirement of the law.

        This is a prudent and likely the only reasonable step. What they have left to do is to acquire tooling (also part of mentioned documentation), review process sheets/ material specifications and make modifications if needed and go ahead with production. At the end the chances are that result will be by expectation, but some tweaks may be required. Nothing is guaranteed beforehand.

  4. I’d like to tie to that ‘funny world on its known” comment. I worked short time for a manufacturer, who patented anything and everything (and paid to lawyers for it) what engineering came up with. I suspect the reason was that they wanted to maneuver out any other maker from coming even close to their solution. After some time however, no one tried to use it anyway. Here comes the question: was it worth of patenting (and paying for it)?

    • “Here comes the question: was it worth of patenting (and paying for it)?”
      Well, such questions are good for fortune-tellers.
      BTW: Do you known story of ciężki karabin maszynowy wz. 30 (please do not corrupt that name, please)?
      In inter-war period Colt patented Browning short-recoil operated machine gun in various European countries, but they did not made in Poland. Poles noticed; You have no power here! and soon they have ready own machine gun:

  5. Also, another funny note.
    Let’s say someone thinks they have some bright idea and do not run a production facility in that business. They bravely contact patent lawyer and pay and pay…and pay. First, they pay for similar patent search. Then they pay for registering of their own patent and then they pay for maintenance of patent rights/ patent protection enforcement.
    Yet, it is entirely conceivable, that no one will even scratch on that. You have to ask yourself: “what was that person (aka inventor) up to?” Money spent, but no effect. It’s not even funny; or is it? 🙂

    • What I was getting to is what may be on mind of talented designers who want to apply themselves in industry.

      Some of this was discussed with Mr.T. Neophytou and if I recall it correctly he said something to this extent: contact makers and if they are interested, try to make a deal. One part of the “deal” may be agreement as to who will cover cost of patenting procedures and who will become its proprietor. This may be quite futile, but perhaps the only way, unless the inventor has his own mfg. facility and appropriate certification pertaining to local laws.

  6. Very nice explanation of things like tolerances and materials – I think Ian is quite right that few people have been exposed to or understand just how complicated and difficult it is to “make something”.

    By the way: There’s also such a thing as a ‘defensive patent” where one gets a patent on something not so much because one wants a monopoly on the invention (which may be minor) but to prevent an aggressive competitor or patent troll from getting a patent on that same thing and crippling one’s ability to produce a product.

    • “understand just how complicated and difficult it is to “make something”.”
      That alone might be hard, but often parts are required to be interchangeable which add complication.

      • Right, and in addition, well designed small arm’s mechanism, especially of that destined to be for military application, must mitigate influence/ accumulation of dirt/ water/ snow/ ice dust and salt… it is long list. Another good topic might be if enclosed receiver is better that open one. Look at M16 and vz.58 what connects and what divides them. Oh yeah, engineering is (often frustrating) fun.

      • Another example how NOT to design small arm. I remember when I saw first time internals of SA80, I immediately noticed the bolt shank was completely smooth – looked like ground. What immediately popped to my mind was visual memory of linear striker on vz.58. When you have the opportunity, take a look; it is an excellent example how to provide dirt clearance in critical areas of a critical part.

          • Much of progress had been done thru cunning copying. We can see how let’s say SMG (as you patently mention) looked fifty years ago and how it looks today. They are hard to tell apart. Same with rifles; a new norm was established. You do not see any tilting blocks any more. I wonder, how “patent-protected” are they. It must require an enormous legal effort in that sea of sameness.

  7. It has been a while since I was in engineering school, but this video <11 min. video explains better and more correctly then most hour long lectures i remember.

  8. Gnly some two percent of granted patents can reach to the manufacturing stages and others stand as a milestone for the science as related… Most of the inventors are not aware of this fact and learn when getting in touch with the patent lawyers.

    Claims describing the invention in words, should be as broad as possible as reaching to the boundary of granted patents in force and most of the todays patents have “Photo” claims which describing nearly only what the invention appears inside and out since, preaparing good, valuable claims needs superior lawyer mantality which can not be encountered novadays through the shrinkage of the archieves of granted patents in large.

    Most of the “Patentability Search” at beginning and the search of “Reference Patents” afterwards by the Patent office examiners can not be made correctly through the human force in the given time and this leads the confusing similar patents and most of the “Hard to search” invention patents are granted through objection times sometimes extending over a year period.

    • Well put, Strongarm. Is it because you have experience in that direction? As for me, yes I came to touch with it too.

      If I may broaden the scope – it is not just in small arms field when you apply criteria as mentioned. I have seen number of patents in vehicle industry, motorcycles in particular. What motorcycle builders do, they “copy-right” entire motorcycle with everything, including wheels, brakes, chains and/or drive shafts. Yet, the core of it maybe just a method of supercharging system.

  9. Since most of the patents are never materialised on the market, it ends up like an industry for itself, draining money from naive inventors, who in the end are in the loss.

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