Record Keeping


Intellectual property developed by faculty members, staff members or students of Vanderbilt can provide a significant financial opportunity for the institution and for the inventors. An important aspect in the development of valuable intellectual property is the "trail of evidence" created in laboratory notebooks. Notebooks are used to support the patent applications and issued patents resulting from research carried out at Vanderbilt. This short guide was developed to assist you in developing quality procedures for recording and maintaining laboratory data to support the filing, prosecution, maintenance and enforcement of patents.

Does This Mean More Work For Me?

Implementing our suggestions should not result in more work for you. We believe our suggestions are similar to typical general laboratory notebook maintenance guidelines. Even if no potentially patentable intellectual properties result from your work, we hope including our suggestions into your documentation habits will benefit you when preparing a manuscript, thesis or presentation.

Why Are the Notebooks Important For My Patent?

Laboratory notebook records are one of our best sources of evidence for establishing a date of invention. The data in laboratory notebooks can significantly affect Vanderbilt's ability to assert its rights in important intellectual properties by proving a date of invention prior to a third party's date of invention. In a worst case scenario, your laboratory notebooks may eventually become important evidence in litigation. In litigation, high quality laboratory notebooks can produce a significant "edge" for Vanderbilt, potentially affecting the financial reward paid to the institution and its inventors.

Our Suggestions:

  • Use bound notebooks with numbered pages, not spiral or multi-ring notebooks
  • Multiple notebooks should be numbered and the with time period of entries noted
  • Each project should have its own notebook or set of notebooks
  • Entries should be made legibly in ballpoint ink (preferably black) and initialed or signed
  • Devise a nomenclature and be consistent
  • Each experiment should be described in detail and should include a discussion of its purpose
  • The outcome of each experiment should be clearly stated along with your conclusions and thoughts about further steps
  • Record invoice numbers used for special order supplies such as oligonucleotides, peptides, etc. or special services such as DNA sequencing (a copy of the dated invoice is suggested as well)
  • Have a witness who understands the technology (but would not be named as a co-inventor on any subsequent patent filing for the technology) sign and date significant entries
  • Date all machine-generated, non-handwritten laboratory data (i.e. computer or other device-driven printouts, autoradiograms, photographs, etc.) and securely attach them to the laboratory notebook. If possible, a description should be written on the material including the significance of the result
  • Information recorded on "thermal" paper should be copied to regular paper, since "thermal" paper fades over time

Notebook Storage and Ownership

It takes anywhere from two (2) to six (6) years to prosecute a US patent application to issue. In addition, a patent can be litigated any time during the life of the patent - either 17 years from the date of issue or 20 years from the patent application date, depending on the patent. Therefore, it may be necessary for Vanderbilt to retrieve information from your laboratory notebooks well into the future. To help assure the physical integrity of your notebooks, they should be stored in a cool, dry place away from potentially damaging light, corrosive agents and organic fumes. If they are stored in an area with a sprinkler fire control system, they should be stored in plastic bags as well.

Your laboratory notebooks are the property of Vanderbilt and are not your personal property. They should be properly cared for like any Vanderbilt property. You are entitled to a copy of any and all laboratory results. It is necessary for Vanderbilt to maintain access to your notebooks in order to support patent applications and provide information in the event of litigation.

Remember to DATE AND WITNESS significant research advances and inventions.

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