When properly maintained, a laboratory notebook is important in establishing a permanent record that can be referred to in the future to prove what was done during the course of research. When improperly kept, it may fail to prove what was conceived or invented, and it may fail to fix important critical dates.

Laboratory notebooks often play an important role during the patent prosecution process and even after a patent has issued. A properly kept notebook is invaluable in cases in which another party claims a patent to be invalid or in interference cases in which two or more patents have been issued on the same invention and the true inventor must be ascertained. As shown in the Stern v. Columbia University case, having a properly witnessed notebook can make all the difference in whether you have a case at all.

An inventor may be asked to document the chronology of events from the first concept through reduction to practice. All ideas, experimental designs, data and interpretations should be recorded in ink in bound notebooks and the notebooks kept in a secure place. Any potential for broad application of an experimental result should be recorded at the end of an experiment. Each page of the notebook should be signed by the inventor and by a witness who understands the work, but who has not made an inventive contribution.

Key points to remember:

  1. To show conception of an invention, disclosure of a complete and operative method or means to accomplish a particular purpose or result.
  2. Do not erase any part of an entry – draw a line throughout the material to be deleted. Initial and date any corrections. Do not change drawings in the notebook – make new ones. Make entries in ink to avoid any suspicion of alteration. Do not leave empty spaces – if you skip a page or part of a page, draw a cross-diagonal line throughout the blank portion.
  3. Any entry which relates to a possibly patentable invention should be signed and dated by 2 witnesses – with their signatures under the caption “disclosed to and understood by.”
  4. Sign and date every page as completed. Separate sheets and photographs affixed to pages should be referred to in an entry. Use pages in consecutive order. Entries should be in chronological order. Keep your notebook intact. Do not tear out pages or remove affixed material.
  5. To show reduction to practice of an invention, an entry should describe the purpose of an experiment or test, the method or means chosen to perform it, and the results obtained from the performance – both favorable and unfavorable.
  6. Sign and date affixed material such that the signature is partially on the laboratory notebook page and partially on the affixed material that cannot be entered directly.
  7. Witnesses who have observed and understood the performance of an experiment or test should sign their signatures under the caption “performance observed and understood by.”
  8. Joint work should be signed by all the contributors. The text should set forth who is responsible for each part.

Other key things to remember:

Because computer programs can be patented these instructions apply to be development of computer software. In this case a description of the structure and operation of the program should be recorded in the notebook, together with a basic flow diagram which illustrates the essential features of the program. In the course of developing the code, the number of lines of code written each day should be recorded in the notebook, together with a statement of the portion of the flow diagram to which the section of code is directed. Also all print out of compilations and test runs should be included.

Your primary guiding principle in the laboratory should be to maintain your notebook so carefully and completely that, at some later time, you or any other scientist could repeat any experiment or operation using only your lab notebook as a resource.

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