The importance of laboratory notebooks cannot be overstated. Lab
notebooks create the "trail of evidence" that is essential in
protecting valuable intellectual property. The information contained
in lab notebooks is often the best record as to when an invention was
conceived and reduced to practice. As such, there are a few simple
rules to follow in creating a bulletproof lab notebook.
1. Use Bound Notebooks
Inventors should use notebooks with glue or spiral bindings. If loose
sheets such as computer printouts or photos must be used, then make
sure that they are consecutively numbered and individually dated,
signed, and witnessed.
2. Use Ink
Use ink when creating notebook entries. Additionally, do not white out
or erase entries. If an error occurs, simply strike a single line
through the error.
3. Minimize Blank Space
Minimize the amount of blank space in the notebook. Draw a line
through any blank areas to prevent subsequent entries. It is important
to establish that the entries are made in chronological order.
4. Sign & Date Each Entry
Sign and date the inside cover of each notebook to indicate the date
of first use. Additionally, inventors should number their notebooks
consecutively for each year. Most importantly, sign and date each
5. Have An INDEPENDENT Witness Sign & Date Each Entry
Have an independent witness sign and date each entry soon after it is
made. Entries should never be witnessed less frequently than a weekly
or monthly basis. An independent witness is one who would not be named
as a co-inventor of the invention, but understands the technology
entered in the notebook. The witness line may be as simple as "read
and understood by (name) on (date)."
6. Don't Change Entries
Do not modify entries at a later date. If data was inadvertently
omitted simply enter the new data in sequence on the current date and
cross-reference the prior entry. It is good practice to record data
when the experiments are performed.
7. Use Past Tense
The past tense should be used in describing experiments that have been
8. Permanently Affix Attachments
Permanently affix attachments such as graphs or computer printouts in
the notebook, preferably by stapling. Draw lead lines from the paper
onto the surface of the photograph to show that the photographs were
not substituted at a later date. Sign and date the attachment
independently from the entry. Whenever possible, draw sketches, in
ink, directly on the notebook page, rather than attaching separate
9. Use Legends
Use legends to explain unique abbreviations and symbols that are not
common in the field.
10. Never Remove Originals From A Notebook
All lab notebooks, whether still in use or ten years old, should
contain all the original pages.
11. Outline Experiments
Upon that start of a new project or experiment, take the time to
outline the objective.
12. Record Lab Meeting Minutes
Record all discussions relevant to an experiment in the notebook,
including suggestions made by others. Carefully document all
suggestions made by others. Notebooks are often essential in
determining inventorship issues.
13. Detail, Detail, Detail!
Include as much detail in notebook entries as possible. Record all
experiment conditions. All statements regarding the experiment should
be supported by factual data. Avoid giving opinions or speculation in
14. Save Old Notebooks
Index all lab notebooks. Notebooks are frequently indexed by project,
by number, and by author. Notebooks that contain information related
to inventions for which a patent application has been prepared should
be kept with the corresponding patent application. As such, they
should be retained for the life of the patent plus six years. Old
notebooks not associated with a patent application should be kept
together in a central location. Keep in mind that your lab notebooks
are the property of your employer and are not your personal property.
After all, notebooks may have tremendous value to your employer long
after you have left.
15. Track Old Notebooks
Notebooks should be catalogued and tracked. Depending on the size of
the organization, this may be accomplished at the company, division,
or lab level. Many research oriented organizations record the date a
researcher receives a notebook and the date the notebook is returned
for cataloguing. Then, after cataloguing, the notebooks may only be
checked out by authorized personnel.
While these steps may seem inconvenient at first, one must keep in
mind that value of an organization's intellectual property often far
exceeds the value of the tangible assets.