Inventor's notebook

An inventor's notebook is used by inventors, scientists and engineers to record their ideas, invention process, experimental tests and results and observations. It is not a legal document but is valuable, if properly organized and maintained, since it can help establish dates of conception and reduction to practice. The information can improve the outcome of a patent or a patent contestation.



A patent grants its owners the right to sue those who manufacture and market products or services that infringe on the claims declared in the patent. Typically, governments award patents on a first to file or first to invent basis. The latter is currently true for the United States. Therefore, it is important to keep and maintain records that help establish who is first to invent a particular invention.

The inventor's notebook (also called a journal, lab book or log book) is a systematic device for recording all information related to an invention in such a way that it can be used to develop a case during a patent contestation or patent-related lawsuit.

The notebook is also a valuable tool for the inventor since it provides a chronological record of an invention and its reduction to practice.

A "virtual inventor's notebook", in which one scans note pages and emails them to oneself through a service such as gmail, would likely serve the same patent contestation protection, the same chronological record, and would be less likely to be lost or stolen. However, confidentiality could be at stake using such techniques.

Suggested guidelines

These are suggested guidelines for creating and maintaining an inventor's notebook. The guidelines are by no means to be construed as legal advice. If you need legal advice regarding an inventor's notebook, consult an attorney.

  • Use a book with stitch-bound, consecutively numbered pages. Pre-printed notebooks that include features described in these guidelines can be obtained from commercial publishers. Composition books and journals are acceptable if consecutive page numbers are written in the upper right-hand corner in permanent ink. Both sides of each page must be numbered
  • One book can be used to record multiple concepts but many inventors prefer to dedicate one book to each project
  • All original concepts and relevant data should be immediately entered into the notebook. Relevant data includes sketches, descriptions of the concept, motivation for the concept and results of searches for prior art. Headings should be used to separate topics and each entry must be dated. Make all entries in a consistent manner using consistent language, charts and numbering systems
  • Include entries on all experiments, experimental results, observations and conclusions
  • If a concept or prototype is tested with a group of people, include entries explaining the test, the methods used, results, observations and conclusion. Note whether participants signed non-disclosure agreements
  • Record any public disclosure of a concept, invention, prototype or experimental results. Public disclosure includes, but is not limited to, printed or electronic publication, presentations, discussions with potential customers, tests and demonstrations and informal discussions with persons not directly associated with the organization that may ultimately patent the invention
  • Brief entries are permissible but include enough detail for someone else knowledgeable in the pertinent fields to successfully duplicate the work
  • Enter all entries in chronological order
  • Label all figures and calculations. Use numbers in bubbles and arrows to assign numbers to features that are discussed in entries and reference the pertinent figure or calculation in those entries
  • Never remove any pages from the notebook
  • The first few pages may be reserved as a Table of Contents. Add Table of Contents to the top of each such page even if no items are yet entered on that page
  • Start entries at the top of the first page, write to fill the page from left to right and continue to the bottom of the last page of the notebook. Do not leave blank spaces, instead, draw a single line across each blank line
  • Never let anyone else make entries in the notebook, excepting witness signatures
  • Never erase or remove material added to the notebook. Draw a line through errors, add your initials and make corrections nearby
  • Materials such as printed pages, test equipment hardcopy, dated receipts, photographs and CAD drawings must be affixed with paste to pages in the notebook. Include dated written entries for each item. For photographs, draw numbers and bubbles and arrows from the page and onto the photograph and in a nearby entry describe the features indicated
  • Materials too large for the notebook can be entered in an ancillary record but a dated written entry must be added in the journal describing the material and its location in the ancillary record
  • Have one or two persons, who have enough knowledge of the relevant fields to read and understand the entries for a given date, sign the last entry for a given date under a "Disclosed to and understood by" label. Witnesses should not be related to the author of the notebook

Famous notebooks

Though not necessarily following all the guidelines above, journals and notebooks have been kept by many famous inventors, scientists and engineers. Some of the most well-known journals include those of:


Grisson, Fred & Pressman, David. (2000). The Inventor's Notebook, 3rd Edition. Nolo.

See also

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