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An electronic measurement system is built of 'computer off the shelf' components: there are no custom designed parts.

QUESTIONS

Does it make sense to provide a diagram of the interconnected parts or is it enough to state that a sensor is electronically connected to a general purpose computer? Assume the sensor is a USB device to simplify context.

If a diagram is warranted, would it make more sense to simply photograph the system and annotate the components?

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Photos are allowed in provisional applications. You will need to make sure it is legible at the other end. The process of submitting it will not preserve the color and resolution. Imagine that on the way to the USPTO it was faxed on a bad fax machine. One way to improve what ends up at the USPTO's computers is to do it electronically and select "drawing other than black and white line drawings" as the kind of document you are submit. You might want to play with the contrast before submitting.

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The purpose of a provisional application is to prove that you were in possession of the invention at the time of application and to support a priority claim.

It is impossible to definitively answer whether you need a particular piece of disclosure, because it is only during litigation that that really becomes an issue. That is, if it turns out a court finds that your lack of precise description about how the components are connected implies that you did not possess the invention, then your provisional suddenly becomes worthless.

For this reason, it is always prudent to err on the side of more description. A few extra minutes of typing or another diagram added at the start may save your eventual patent.

As to whether to simplify a photograph or to create a new diagram, that's an administrative decision: do whatever provides the result that serves you best.

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