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Lab Notebook Procedure


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 and to support the documentation and data retention requirements of the federal government. 

Laboratory notebooks are used not only to provide valuable insights into the creation of inventions but also to provide the federal government with documentation to support the university’s compliance with various federal regulations. These regulations include but are not limited to disclosure of intellectual property, time and effort certification, misconduct in science, and objectivity in research. 

Intellectual Property developed by faculty, staff, or students at the University of Texas at Arlington (UTA) represent a significant financial opportunity for the university and for inventors of intellectual property. One important aspect in the development of valuable intellectual property is the “trail of evidence” (date of inception and reduction to practice) created by laboratory notebooks. Notebooks are used to support the patent applications and issued patents resulting from research carried out at UTA.

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  • Use bound notebooks with numbered pages, not spiral or multi-range notebooks.
  • Multiple notebooks should be numbered and the 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). Do not use pencil or water-soluble ink.
  • Each page/entry should be dated and signed by the investigator and a witness (not working on the project).
  • It is the witness’s date that determines the date of invention for patent protection purposes.
  • 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 peptides or special services such as DNA sequencing (a copy of the dated invoice is suggested as well).
  • Record reagent lot numbers.
  • Have a witness who understands the research or technology (but would not be named as a co-inventor on any subsequent patent filing for the technology) sign and date all entries.
  • Date all machine-generated, non-handwritten laboratory data (i.e. computer or other device-driven printouts, photographs, etc.) and securely attach them to the laboratory notebook. If possible, a description should be written on the material provided including the significance of the result.
  • If you hand transcribe data from a data generating machine you need to keep the raw data.
  • Information recorded on “thermal” paper should be copied to regular paper, since “thermal” paper fades over time.

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Laboratory Notebooks and Patents

Laboratory notebook records (lab books) are one of our best sources of evidence for establishing a date of invention. In order to do this all lab books should be signed daily by the researcher and a witness and all pages in lab books should be numbered and bound so that the pages cannot removed.

The presence of data in laboratory notebooks can significantly affect UTA’s ability to assert its rights in important intellectual property by establishing a firm “date of invention”. The “date of invention” is determined by the date of the witness’s signature. In a worst case scenario, your laboratory notebooks may eventually become important evidence in litigation by establishing the date of invention and proving you were the first to invent. In litigation, high quality laboratory notebooks can produce a significant “edge” for the university, potentially affecting the financial reward paid to the institution and its inventors.

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Notebook Storage

Notebooks for purposes of patents and other federal regulations should be kept anywhere from three to seven years, sometimes longer. In the case of patents, it can take anywhere from 2 to 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, which may be up to 20 years. Therefore, it may be necessary for UTA 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 and away from potentially damaging light, corrosive agents and organic fumes. It they are stored in an area with a sprinkler fire control system, they should be stored in plastic bags as well.

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Remember, Laboratory notebooks and all data generated by UTA are the property of the University and remain at the University.
For any questions, please contact your Grant and Contract Specialist or Contact Office of Grant and Contract Services at extension 2-2105.