Lab Notebook

Need for Notebook

A lab notebook provides evidence of an inventor’s conception of an invention and the steps taken to reduce the invention to practice. It becomes a permanent record of the date of invention, which can be invaluable in patent contests.

What to Include

Detail is critical. Record:

  • When the idea was formed, and whose idea it was
  • The problem the idea solves
  • A description of how the idea can be implemented
  • Objective and rationale of any experiment conducted
  • Purpose of experiment or test
  • What was done, when it was done, and who did it
  • Results (positive or negative)
  • Conclusions drawn
  • Plans for future experiments, with protocols
  • Key to abbreviations and special terms used-in context, in a table, or in a glossary
  • Related activities such as conferences and creation of test equipment
  • Lab meeting discussions-with record of who made what suggestions
  • Descriptions of tests, including
    • test results and explanation
    • preferred operating conditions
    • control conditions
    • operable and preferred ranges of conditions
    • alternate specific materials
    • photographs or sketches of the results or the test device
    • raw data from recording instruments
    • drawings
    • charts
    • computer printouts
    • any other supporting data
    • references to any document too large to include in notebook, e.g., engineering drawings. Include number, title, date, and short description of what it depicts.

Include only factual data. Avoid opinion or speculation about the usefulness, quality, etc. of the invention or the research project.

How to Manage Your Notebook

  • Use a bound book. If loose sheets are used, number them consecutively, then date and sign each page, and have each page witnessed.
  • Keep your notebook intact. Don’t remove pages or affixed material.
  • Make entries in chronological order-on the same day as the event. If this is impossible, enter the information and indicate when the actual work was done.
  • Use ink to avoid any question about alteration and to prevent tampering.
  • Use pages in consecutive order, and try not to leave empty spaces. If you do leave empty space, draw cross-diagonal lines through the blank area and date it.
  • Don’t modify previous entries later. If a new drawing or new data is required, it should be entered under a new date and cross-referenced to the earlier entry.
  • Make entries directly in your notebook; don’t make notes on scraps of paper to be recopied.
  • Sign and date every page as completed (see below for more on signatures).
  • Indicate the name of the person working with you in connection with each entry. If someone else makes an entry in the notebook, he or she should date and sign the entry.
  • Permanently affix items such as photos, small drawings, computer printouts, etc. Sign and date the attached materials so your signature crosses both the affixed item and the notebook page.

Signatures in the Notebook

  • Sign and date each entry in the notebook, using the complete date, including the year. On the inside front cover of the notebook, sign and enter the beginning date of the notebook.
  • All the contributors should sign joint work. The text should establish who is responsible for each aspect.
  • Following the description and illustration of an idea in the notebook, a witness who will not be named as a co-inventor and who is not working on the project should sign and date the entry. A statement similar to the following should precede the signature: “Read and understood by _________________.”
  • The first reduction to practice should be demonstrated to an independent witness, and he or she should sign and date a statement similar to the following: “Performance observed and understood by ______________.”
  • The witness should sign and date the entries as soon as possible, preferably the same day, but they can be reviewed and acknowledged on a periodic basis.

Storing the Lab Notebook

  • Keep notebooks in a central location while not in use-preferably in a fireproof safe or filing cabinet.
  • Catalog notebooks. Assign a number to each notebook-in consecutive order within the lab or consecutively to each scientist.
  • When complete, the notebook should be stored in a secure, central repository, along with corresponding patent applications and/or issued patents.
  • Keep notebooks relating to patented inventions for the life of the patent plus six years.