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Why Are CAD Files Important in Intellectual Property & Product Liability Cases?

Most intellectual property and product liability cases call for a visual explanation that a jury or judge needs to help them decide the case.  When you need to show how one device infringes on the patent of another (or doesn’t), or how an injury is the result of product misuse and not faulty design, clarity and accuracy are essential.  In our 20 years of experience, we have found that CAD files are a key part of creating the highest quality exhibits and, if these files exist with the engineers at your client’s company, they will offer strategic advantages when designing graphics/animations that will save your client significant time and money in the process.

What Is a CAD File?

CAD, or Computer Aided Design, is a technique commonly used in manufacturing and other industries to create plans for machine parts, architectural structures and more using precisely measured shapes and lines.  The result of this process is often a CAD drawing, which defines what the eventual real-world part or structure will look like from multiple angles (e.g., front, side, top). These drawings can be translated into 3D computer graphics to create highly effective illustrations and animations to be used at hearings and in trial.


A CAD drawing of a machine part


A 3D model based on the drawing

Cases Where CAD Files Are Most Useful

As mentioned above, intellectual property and product liability cases are prime candidates for having detailed and accurate visuals in your exhibit arsenal.

Intellectual property cases often require you to “teach” aspects of a patent to a judge and jury.  Regardless of which side of the case you’re on, detailed graphics are often necessary to accomplish this task.  Perhaps a crankshaft is entrenched within a complex assembly of engine parts, a pipe valve’s particular effect on fluid flow needs to be shown, or a piston needs to be set in motion to reveal its unique behavior.  Maybe the complicit differences between two devices are subtle and difficult to see with the naked eye.  In all of these situations, detail and accuracy are critical.  By locating and providing these files to your graphic designer, he/she can make the product move in such a controllable fashion that will reinforce your case themes – either the alleged product is infringing or it isn’t.

Product liability cases will usually call for a demonstration of how a loss or injury was caused either by a product’s design defect, or its misuse.  In both cases, an accurate depiction of the machine is materially useful – be it to show the specific defect and how its movement contributed to the failure, or to illustrate that the machine functioned as designed but was circumvented by the user.  Again, detail, accuracy and examination are key and having these CAD files makes this possible.

Beyond these, CAD-based graphics can provide leverage in many different kinds of cases.  Some examples include:

  • Show circumstances that led to a construction mishap in a denial of insurance claim
  • Visualize a factory work site to explain liability in a toxic tort case
  • Recreate an eyewitness’s point-of-view in a specific location in a personal injury case
  • Explain “how things work” in a wide variety of situations where you need to provide context and background information for judge and jury

Advantages of CAD Files in Trial Preparation

Access to the appropriate source materials can give your team advantages before the trial even starts.  While a good graphics team can certainly create high-quality exhibits based on expert witness opinion alone, these visuals may take longer to produce, and they will be less precise in their measurements and shapes.  Providing your graphics designer access to your client’s CAD files offers several benefits:

  • Highly accurate facsimiles of their real-world counterparts. You can go into an admissibility hearing with confidence.
  • A wealth of data about the subject matter, which can be used to illustrate a wide variety of case facts.
  • Unexpected discoveries that improve your case strategy will sometimes come to light as you see the results of the graphics team’s detailed work.

Advantages of CAD Files During Trial

CAD files, and the graphics that come from them, make your courtroom presentation more authoritative, and more compelling, in several ways:

  • Grab the judge’s and jury’s attention.  The amount of available detail facilitates the use of elaborate visuals.
  • Control the overall complexity of the presentation.  The modular nature of CAD files permits you to highlight or remove layers of information at will, drawing focus to the salient points of your case while eliminating extraneous detail (for example, you could remove the outer casing of a turbine to reveal the fan blades inside).  You avoid overwhelming the judge and jury.
  • Depict your subject matter in familiar ways to judge and jury.  While CAD drawings themselves can be highly useful, they may also prove to be abstract concepts for your audience. 3D models based on CAD can be rendered to look more recognizable to your audience, with controlled coloring and lighting.  The models can also be shown from a variety of angles using a virtual camera with realistic perspective.
  • Present your case facts more literally.  Through 2D and 3D animation, moving parts can be set in motion on-screen, allowing judge and jury to see behavior, purpose and cause-and-effect relationships directly.
  • Make your expert witness an ace in the hole.  These detailed, accurate, layered and animated illustrations allow your expert witnesses to explain complex concepts more effectively and make cross-examination by opposing counsel more challenging.


Given these collective budgetary, timeline and strategic advantages, using CAD files will pay many dividends that make it worth reaching out to appropriate parties to ask whether these resources are available.  Depending on the situation, it may take some time for the engineers to locate and prepare these files, so it is best to inquire early.  The sooner your graphics team has these assets in hand, the sooner they can get to work strengthening your case.


By:  Shannon Gilley – Senior Designer/Animator

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