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Document Your Invention: Why and How

Whether you are developing a new gene therapy based on a nonobvious use of a bacterium or a formulation that will potentially change the way we treat cancer, keeping good records must be a priority while you work on your invention. If your patent application is challenged or if you discover someone has infringed on it, good documents may well be the key to winning the dispute. Follow along as FindLaw explores the many practical and legal reasons to keep meticulous records and notes.

Reasons to Record Your Progress

Here are some more reasons why you should keep records of your progress:

  • To prove that you are the inventor;
  • To indicate that you are careful and methodical about your work; to show you are reliable. Think of them as evidence of your character.
  • Good records can help you at income-tax time by establishing deductions for expenses relating to your invention, and to stave off the IRS if you're audited.
  • Good records may prove that you had the idea first.
  • Good records may prove that you were the first to turn the idea into a physical object or specific process a.k.a. a "reduction to practice."
  • Good records help establish that your idea is new and original.
  • Good records can stimulate creativity and help you analyze your work.

How to Record Data

  • Use a bound lab book. If the book is bound, your opponents will have a hard time arguing that you doctored the records, because it will be handwritten and you cannot insert pages later. If you can't find a lab book, use a bound composition book, which should be available at an office-supply store. (Keep the receipt!)
  • Write your name and address on the front cover or flyleaf and the date you began to keep the lab book.
  • If the book does not have the pages numbered already, do it yourself.
  • If you have a book that does not have signature lines at the bottom of the page for your witnesses, add them. Here's an example of what it might look like:







    What to Record

    Your record of invention is a record of your initial idea. Here's a suggested format:

    Name of Invention:  _____________________________________

    Purpose:  _____________________________________________

    Description:  __________________________________________



    Working Sketch or Diagram:

    Novel Features:  _______________________________________

    Prior Art:  ____________________________________________


    Advantages of Your Invention:  _________________________


    Disadvantages:  ________________________________________


    Signature: ____________________________

    Date:  ______________________




Keeping Secrets

Take steps to ensure that your work and the contents of your lab book are kept secret. Consider obtaining confidentiality agreements for your witnesses. Add the line "The above information is confidential" just above your witness-signature area where it says "WITNESSED AND UNDERSTOOD." Finally, consider locking your lab book in your desk at the end of the day.

The Working File

Use a file folder (the kind that is sealed into a pocket is probably best) to keep things like receipts, correspondence, cancelled checks, and other miscellaneous documents relating to your invention. If the item does not have a date on it, note the date you received it, e.g., "Received on [DATE]."

Hire a Lawyer Skilled in Patents and Inventions

Don't let someone else take credit for your invention. Your work should be legally protected to the fullest extent of the law, but first you need to take the correct steps. Speak to an intellectual property attorney who specializes in patents today.

For more information, visit the Intellectual Property section.

You Don’t Have To Solve This on Your Own – Get a Lawyer’s Help

Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to best protect your rights. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.

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Next Steps

Contact a qualified business attorney to help you identify how to best protect your business' intellectual property.

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