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Lab Notebook Practices to Protect Your IP

Unlike the rest of the world, where the law favors the first party to file a patent application, US Patent Law protects the first to invent.   

Your lab notebook, in which you've recorded a detailed description of your invention, provides important proof of the date of conception and development of your idea. In the US, the party who was first to reduce the invention to practice is generally considered the party entitled to the patent. Under certain circumstances, the patent office will consider the first party to conceive and use diligence in the reduction to practice as the party entitled to a patent. Should you find your invention challenged by another person or entity in what is known as a patent interference, your lab notebook will provide crucial evidence in determining whether or not you were the first to invent.

Recommended good practices for maintaining a lab notebook include:

1)   Use a bound notebook with numbered pages

2)   Write detailed descriptions of your idea /invention and carefully document all experimental work and changes in direction.  Include test results, charts/graphs, sketches and drawings.

3)   Make all entries in permanent ink and note corrections by striking through already entered information in such a way that it can still be read by the reader.  Do not "whiteout" or erase errors.

4)   Sign and date each page on a daily basis.

5)   Draw a diagonal line through unused portions of pages to avoid the possibility of being accused of adding data after the page has been signed.

6)   Have each page of the notebook signed and dated by two witnesses who are skilled in the art and understand your idea, but who are not inventors of the particular invention they are witnessing.