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Evidence-Worthy Laboratory Notebooks: Guidelines from the Office for Technology Licensing and Industry Collaboration

A laboratory notebook is a legal as well as scientific document. It details all the experiments the investigator has tried and all the steps s/he has taken to validate the work. A laboratory notebook is also a valuable evidentiary document that can be used in drafting patent applications and in clarifying issues of inventorship. What follows is a description of practices to follow—and avoid—in maintaining a laboratory notebook that would stand up well if called on as evidence.

Notebooks

The notebook must be permanently bound. The pages must be prenumbered to prevent the later addition or deletion of pages.

Recommended practices

  • Make all entries in permanent ink.

  • Never erase, eradicate, or remove errors. Cross out mistakes with a single line so that the erro­neous entry is still legible. To be safe, initial and date the strikeout.

  • Sign and date each entry. Dated entries should appear in chronological order.

  • Account for all space on a page. If a large portion of a page needs to remain blank for some rea­son, draw a diagonal line through the space and write “This page/section intentionally left blank.” Initial and date.

  • Likewise, account for all time during experi­ments. Offer explanations for large gaps. For example, a week’s vacation, properly noted, will attract no undue attention; however, a six-month gap in the record will probably be used in court to refute a notebook’s validity.

  • Identify all participants and observers. Describe the role each one has played in the experiment as well as in the inventive process. An accurate record of who did what and when will make it easier for a patent attorney to determine whose contributions rise to the level of inventorship.

  • Permanently attach all printouts and photos to a notebook page. Sign and date.

  • Define all abbreviations and acronyms.

  • Index and cross-reference related documents within the text of the description.

  • Write each entry in language that is understand­able to a person of normal intelligence. Assume that the reader will have a passing knowledge of your field of research. Reading your laboratory notebook may give a patent attorney a better understanding of your invention, which would result in a better-written patent application.

  • Write each entry with sufficient detail to enable a person skilled in the art to grasp the importance of the findings and to reproduce the results.

  • Provide a detailed description of experiments and resulting data. Do not offer personal opinions or speculate too broadly on the results.

  • Have a neutral, disinterested witness sign and date each entry. The recommended format is “Read and understood by: . . . .” Remember: One witness is required; two or three are better.

  • Whenever possible, have your witnesses observe the actual experiments being described.

  • Record all discussions with collaborators and colleagues.

  • Sign and date each entry.

For information about the Office for Technology Licensing and Industry Collaboration, please go to http://techtransfer.tufts.edu.

 

 

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