Guidelines for Maintaining Lab Notebooks

Introduction

It is extremely important for potential inventors to keep detailed laboratory notebooks. A U.S. patent is granted to the inventor who was the first to conceive the invention. A laboratory notebook is evidence for proving inventorship or first-to-invent. Below are guidelines on what to record in your notebooks and other records and how to keep your records.

Laboratory notebooks and other records can resolve issues such as who is an inventor and who is not, and who contributed what portion to the invention. Laboratory records must be sufficiently detailed and clear to allow someone "skilled in the art" to recreate the work and to conduct additional work without the direct assistance of the original researcher.

Record the following in your notebooks and other records:

  • All details of a project, including raw data and final results of experiments, calculations on which the results are based, details of equipment use, and a key to abbreviations used.
  • Raw data from recording instruments, drawings, photographs, charts, computer printouts, etc. Permanently attach these items to a notebook page. Sign your name so the signature crosses both the attached item and the notebook page.
  • All research and developmental efforts, including ideas generated during meetings, noting sources of ideas.
  • Plans for future experiments and their protocols
  • Conclusions drawn

Do NOT include in a notebook an opinion on patentability, any comments regarding the amount of additional effort required to complete the experiment or commercialize the results. Avoid any negative comments concerning the project or the results of an experiment and comments reflecting the nature, quality or utility of the results of a research project.

Guidelines for keeping notebooks:

  • Use permanently bound notebooks with numbered pages
  • Include a detailed Table of Contents, if possible, with necessary explanations for abbreviations, acronyms, or unique codes
  • Make entries consecutively.  Do NOT skip pages or leave large empy areas.  "X" off unused page sections, where necessary.
  • Number you notebooks consecutively, under each researcher's name
  • Use permanent, waterproof ink
  • Make legible and complete entries
  • Record teh date and initials/names of the contributor on each page, including sketches, photos, or other additions
  • Make entries on the same day as the event.  If this is not possible, enter the information and indicate when the actual work was done
  • Use a new page for new experiments
  • Use a diagonal line to mark out blank portions of pages


  • Mark errors in the entry by drawing a single line through with an initial and date.  Do NOT erase or completely cross out errors.
  • Remember electronic/computer files, diskettes, and similar data may be useful, but do not carry as much proof as the handwritten lab record because they may be easier to alter
  • Sign and date each notebook page with your complete name and complete date, including year
  • Have records witnessed as soon as possible, preferably the same day, but within one week, with signature and date.  Witness should be objective and one who can understand the science or the content.  Do NOT use coworker, supervisors, or other collaborators in the research
  • Store notebooks in a central location, preferably in a fireproof safe or filing cabinet
  • Reproduce notebooks on microfilm when complete or by other suitable means and store securely in a separate location