Technology Transfer

Keeping A Laboratory Notebook

The United States of America is one of the world's largest markets for goods and services. Therefore, possession of a US patent can provide the owner with a tremendous commercial advantage. The purpose of this memo is to point out the importance of keeping good, reliable laboratory records to ensure that the necessary evidence is readily available should a US patent dispute arise. 

The following is intended as a general guide on how to keep a notebook.

The Record Book: It is important to use a record book that has a permanent binding. Loose-leaf, spiral-bound or other temporarily bound books that allow for page removal or insertion are not suitable. The pages of the notebook should be numbered, which significantly reduces the possibility of a successful challenge to the validity of any entry unless you are using an electronic lab notebook.  Keeping laboratory notes entirely electronically is not advisable unless you are using an electronic lab notebook.  

Paper Quality: The permanence of the records is a prime consideration and it is important that good quality paper be used. The notebook may become important years and even decades latter.

Ink Quality: When recording experiments, do not use pencil or strange-colored inks. Ensure that the ink is permanent, not water or solvent reactive, and does not smear. It should also be light stable.

Entries: The entries in the notebook should be legible and factually complete. For all inventions, but perhaps especially for chemical and biotechnical inventions, it is important to describe in as full detail as possible all experimental procedures. This information includes all conditions of the experiment and all apparatus with sketches if appropriate. For mechanical/electrical inventions, full details of the apparatus, including circuits and settings, must be provided.

Drawings, including formulae in chemical inventions and sequence listings in biotechnological inventions, may be important. If there is any doubt, always include the supporting documentation. As a general guideline, there should be enough information in the notebook to enable someone working in the field to duplicate the effort and the results.

Rules and Observations: Record carefully all results and note all observations. In the chemical area, the notebook should include references to all analytical data and details of any calculations. Any graphs, drawings or other loose sheets should be carefully affixed in the book by some permanent method (staples or adhesive) and reference made to them and their contents and conclusions. Data that become available later should be added to the notebook on a separate page with a reference to the original entry. Never leave a page incomplete. Draw lines through unused pages or parts of pages.

Facts and Not Opinions: Record all novel concepts and ideas relating to the work. The notebook should be limited to factual, quantitative and qualitative results. Do not express opinions in notebooks because they could lead to misinterpretation. Statements like "the experiment failed," "the idea is obvious," "I think it is unpatentable," or "perhaps would infringe patent X" should be avoided. Do not use slang, abbreviations and unduly technical jargon. The notebook must be understandable to others, not only to patent attorneys, but also to judges, juries and potential licensees.

Supporting Documentation: Additions to the notebook of support records, (i.e., photographs, computer pages, test results, etc.) should not be haphazard. If support records cannot be added to the notebook itself, then reference to them should be consistent and they should be stored in an orderly, readily available and retrievable manner.

Signing Off: Ensure that each page is signed and dated by the author and witnessed as soon as possible. Do not leave any pages undated, unsigned or unwitnessed. Unsigned or undated or unwitnessed pages are virtually worthless and may undermine the credibility of the entire notebook. Have the pages witnessed at least weekly. A long delay between the signing of the page by the inventor and the witness will raise awkward questions.

Errors: Errors should not be erased or obliterated beyond recognition. Neither should liquid paper be used. Simply cross out an error so that it is apparent what the error was. Explain all errors and mistakes as they occur and initial them. Never remove pages from the notebook.

Safe Keeping: The notebook should be regarded as a legal document and its use and access should be controlled. When completed, it should be stored in a safe place and should not be treated as a freely available publication.

The purpose of this memo is to highlight the importance of keeping good, reliable laboratory records. This note does not contain definitive legal advice and should not be used as a substitute for the advice of your lawyer or patent attorney. For additional information or for answers to specific questions, please contact the Technology Transfer Office.

Last Updated: 8/9/23