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Apr 2006
April 06, 2006

Do's and Don'ts for Keeping Research Notebooks

Do the engineers, designers and technicians in your organization keep accurate research notebooks to track projects? Perhaps they should. Research notebooks are vital to recording the development of patentable inventions. They may provide conception and reduction to practice evidence useful to prove that your organization was first to invent, and may provide a defense if your competitor attempts to patent your "old" technology. Below are guidelines to ensure your notebooks are accurate, thorough and complete.

1.     Do Record in Detail.

When beginning a new project, outline the related idea, hypothesis, objectives and preliminary procedure. A short paragraph or flowchart should be satisfactory. For subsequent entries, record a full, clear and accurate description of procedure, materials, preferred operating conditions, control conditions, operable and preferred condition ranges, as well as alternative materials.

2.     Do Record Research Meetings.

Any relevant discussions about theories, conclusions and ideas or suggestions made by others in the meeting should be recorded in the notebook. Also, record the names of people making the ideas and suggestions carefully, as this information may be relevant to inventorship.

3.     Do Use Bound Notebooks.

Only use permanently bound notebooks, such as notebooks with spiral or glue bindings. Never remove pages from the bound notebook.

4.     Do Sign and Date Entries.

Every notebook should be signed and dated on the inside front cover to indicate when the recipient began using the notebook. Further, each independent entry should be dated and signed or initialed by the recipient. Each new project should begin at the top of a new page, and accordingly labeled.

5.     Do Have the Entries Witnessed.

An independent witness should sign and date each completed notebook entry after the statement: "Read and understood by _______________________." The witness must understand the technology, but should not be someone involved in the research. Preferably, the witness should sign the entries contemporaneously, or at least on a weekly or monthly basis.

6.     Do Use Ink.

Record entries in indelible ink, not pencil. Do not erase or "white out" entries. If an entry includes an error, draw a line through the error and date the deletion. Then enter new text in the next available line.

7.     Don't Include Blank Spaces or Empty Pages.

Avoid leaving blank gaps between entries and empty pages. Draw a line through or across a blank space or page to prevent subsequent entries. Never remove blank pages.

8.     Don't Modify Prior Entries at a Later Date.

If corrections to or additions of data are obtained after an original entry, the corrections or new data can be entered on a subsequent page. Date and cross-reference the new data to the previous entry. Also, record experiments shortly after they are performed to ensure accuracy.

9.     Do Include Attachments.

Attachments such as graphs, printouts and photos should be either permanently stapled or otherwise secured to the notebook. Both the attachment and the notebook should be signed and dated.

10.     Don't Use Incorrect Tense.

Use the past tense, for example, "was titrated," to describe procedures that were actually performed. Use the future tense, for example, "will be titrated," to describe procedures before they are performed.

11.     Do Define Special Terms.

Define all terms that are unconventional. This may be done within the text, in a table, or in a glossary. Also, explain all uncommon abbreviations.

12.     Do Save Old Research Notebooks.

All notebooks should be indexed and retained in a safe location. Retain all patent applications or patents with the relevant notebook. Notebooks that relate to patented inventions should be kept for the life of the patent plus six years.

13.     Do Catalog Notebooks.

Catalog all notebooks—specifically, assign to each notebook a number, which is correlated with the name of the author of the notebook, along with the date the author received the notebook, and the date the notebook was completed and returned. When an employee leaves the company, that employee should return all notebooks checked out by or to him or her.

If you have any questions, feel free to contact your WN&J attorney or Greg Bondarenko at 616.752.2197 or


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