Unlike the laws of most foreign countries, United States law holds that the first person to invent a new and useful invention is entitled to a patent. Because of this fact, proper documentation of dates of invention and subsequent reduction to practice are important tasks for those seeking to obtain patent protection in the United States.
The best form of documentation is a chronological inventor’s notebook, signed by the inventor and witnesses by at least two others who have read and understand the invention. Despite this fact, there are few commercial outlets for inventor’s notebooks and fewer sources of information on how to properly document inventions inside of these notebooks. There are patenting agencies like Invent Help to help you sort this out.
As noted above, the US grants patents to the first to invent and not the first to file a patent application. Thus, an important part of the inventive process should be the keeping of records to prove the date of conception and reduction to practice of the invention. In general, a disclosure that includes the name of the inventor or inventors, the first recorded date, the date that the record is being made, a general description of the invention and signatures and dates of signing by one or more witnesses is sufficient to prove conception. First and foremost, DO NOT MAIL A COPY OF THE DISCLOSURE TO YOURSELF, as this is not sufficient to prove conception or reduction practice of the invention. Rather, a thread bound laboratory notebook should be used for recording all original data and ideas. This notebook should be kept by the individual inventor who determines the contents and maintains the notebook. Notebook entries should generally include a statement of the problem to be solved and the essential features of the proposed solution as it will be reduced to practice.
To be admitted into evidence in a legal proceeding, each page of the notebook should be signed, dated and witnessed by someone who reads, understands, signs and dates his signature on the page. In general, the witnesses should not be related to the inventor (i.e.. wife, child, parent, uncle, etc.) or a co-inventor of the invention in question.
The first page of the notebook should contain a Table of Contents set out in a logical manner to provide ready and quick reference. After the Table of Contents, the remainder of the book should include a chronological series of entries describing inventive activity and should follow the following conventions.
Corporate inventors should use only laboratory notebooks distributed by the corporation to record inventions belonging to the corporation.
Laboratory notebook pages should be consecutively numbered.
All entries into the notebook should be made in ink to rebut any argument of undetectable alteration of the record.
Never erase an entry. If mistakes are made, incorrect entries should be crossed out with a single line so as not to destroy legibility and the correct entry should be written in above, followed by the writer’s initials and the date. Errors not discovered at the time of signing should be corrected on a subsequent page.
Chronological entries should be maintained. Each design or experiment should be started on a new page, but blank pages or blank spaces on pages should never be left as blank spaces or pages can be construed as an indication of the intention to make later entries, which is not permissible. If the record of the experiment requires more then one page, refer to the page where the record will be continued prior to signing and closing out the page.
Entries should refer to any separate analytical or test data not included in the notebook and separate test data should be separately signed and witnessed.
Notebook pages must be closed by signing and dating the pages shortly after the entries have been made. After the page is closed, no further entries should be made. As used here, entries means any marks such as corrections and question marks made by those who review the record. Before signing, any blank space on the page between the entry and the signature lines should be crossed out.