Proper Maintenance of a Laboratory Notebook
|The United States laws implementing the general agreement on tariffs
and trade (GATT) came into force on June 8, 1995. As a result, as of January
1, 1996, it has been possible for foreign inventors to establish a date
of invention in a U.S. patent application by reference to knowledge or
use of the invention in a foreign country which is a member of the World
Trade Organization (WTO), or activity with respect to it in a foreign country
which is a member of the WTO. Since United States patents are awarded to
the first person to invent, not the first applicant, an applicant's ability
to obtain a patent for his invention may often depend upon how well he
documents inventive foreign activity with respect to his invention. This
applies, not only to the situation in which an inventor becomes involved
in an interference, but also when they wish to avoid or "swear behind"
a reference applied against an application by proving a prior date of invention.
Under the new law, it therefore becomes essential
for inventors to maintain an accurate and well-documented laboratory notebook.
The following guidelines should be followed with respect
to all laboratory notebooks:
The notebook should have permanently bound pages which are consecutively
numbered and should be used by a single engineer or scientist.
Ideas, calculations and experimental results should be entered into the
notebook as soon as possible, preferably the same date they occur, so that
the laboratory notebook becomes a daily record of the inventor's activities.
All entries should be made in the notebook in permanent black ink and should
be as legible and complete as possible. Do not use abbreviations, code
names or product codes without defining them clearly.
Draw a line through all errors. Do not erase.
Entries should always be made in the notebook without skipping pages or
leaving empty spaces at the bottom of a page. If you wish to start an entry
on a new page, draw a line through any unused portion of the previous page.
Never tear out or remove a page from the notebook.
Each page should be signed with the inventor's full name and dated. No
entry should be changed or added to after signature. If the inventor has
any additional information or corrections, a new entry should be made.
Each page of the notebook should be witnessed, signed and dated by a colleague
who understands the inventor's work. This should preferably occur daily
and certainly no less frequently than weekly. The witness should not be
a direct contributor to the work being reported.
If an additional entry is made between the initial and final pages recording
an experiment, the entry should identify the page on which the previous
entry for that experiment occurs.
When the laboratory notebook is completely filled and is no longer required
for reference, it should be indexed and stored in a safe location and,
thereafter, handled in accordance with the company's established record
retention and destruction policy for such documents.
Some factors which reduce the value or credibility of your laboratory
In modern laboratories it is often the habit of engineers and scientists
to maintain records of their work in computer files. We do not believe
that computer files can provide sufficient evidence of invention. The reason
for having invention records is to be able to prove the earliest date of
invention. Since computer records can be updated and changed at will, and
their dates are subject to tampering, they cannot serve as evidence that
their content was created at a particular time. With a bound notebook,
it is clear that the work occurred in a particular sequence and was witnessed
by others. Also, scientific experiments can be conducted on the ink and
paper in a notebook to prove their age.
illegible entries are totally worthless;
unsigned or undated pages are almost totally worthless;
notebook pages which have not been witnessed are almost as bad as unsigned
and undated pages;
a long delay between the signing of the page by the inventor and the witness
consecutive notebook pages which are not dated in chronological order raise
missing notebook pages raise questions;
erasures and deletions raise questions -- instead, any later discovered
mistakes should be corrected and explained on the next available blank
page, referencing the page with the mistake.
If bound notebooks have not been kept, written invention disclosure
forms submitted by the inventors to their intellectual property departments
may be the best available evidence. Therefore, they should be a complete
description of the invention, dated and signed by the inventor. They should
also be witnessed, as soon as possible, by someone capable of understanding
It may be difficult and somewhat expensive for companies to maintain
invention records in a bound notebook. As a result, this procedure may
not be followed in many cases. Nevertheless, the new statute provides benefits
to foreign inventors by at least allowing them to prove dates of invention
as early as the submission of disclosures to their company's intellectual
property department or domestic patent agents.
Copyright © 1995 Darby & Darby. Permission granted
to download for personal use and to redistribute without charge.