The Role of Lab Notebooks
On March 16, 2013 the U.S. switched from a “first to invent” to a “first inventor to file” system (see AIA overview). Regardless of this change AzTE still encourages all researchers to maintain good laboratory notebooks to document conception and reduction to practice of inventions.
A lab notebook is important because it establishes a permanent record. This can be referred to in the future to prove dates of conception and reduction to practice. These dates can become important. Generally, a sketch and a brief written description are sufficient to establish conception. A reduction to practice (RTP) can only be established by the construction and successful testing of the invention. For inentions where there is a reasonale doubt that the invention will work as planned (most often in the life sciences fields), then actal RTP is required. If testing results are not needed to show that the invention functions as claimed (e.g., by looking atthe circuit schematic, an electrical engineer will grasp that the invention works as the inventors claim), then constructive RTP is achieved with a patent application that explains exactly how the invention works in words and figures (including the schematic).
Each member of the lab should keep a lab notebook. A bound notebook with numbered pages should be used. Be sure not to tear out or skip pages and use permanent ink. You may want to consider making copies of your notebooks to store off site in case of fire, etc.
Do not black out or erase any data in the notebook. If corrections need to be made draw a single line through it and make comments nearby.
You should have another investigator looks over your entries as frequently as possible. They should place their initials at the bottom of each page with the date. This person must not be a joint inventor.