It is the mission of the Technology Transfer & Commercialization office to assist the UNT Health Science Center, its researchers, and its community with the development, promotion, and commercialization of technologies.
The Laboratory Notebook: Critical for Filing a Successful Patent
A well-kept laboratory notebook is a vital part of productive research, both in academia and industry. In the academic setting, notebooks are owned by the University. This property right is created by the fact that one is employed and paid by the University. Tenure, external funding, and student status do not vitiate this rule.
The importance of maintaining a detailed record of research may be obvious from a good scientific process point of view. There is, however, another reason to record and date your scientific work and ideas. The United States is the only country that has a “first to invent” rule for awarding patents. This means that if two people working separately file a patent for the same invention, documentation of exact dates in laboratory notebooks may affect to whom the patent is granted.
According to Edwin Flores, Ph.D., J.D.. (Patent Attorney, Chalker Flores, LLC), the elements of a good notebook include: date for each entry, signed and documented by the writer and a witness, written legibly in ink, and in English.
He also recommends that any electronic data or procedures be printed, dated and signed. Such information, which includes autorads, photos, and custom reagent orders, should be securely affixed to the lab notebook.
About inventions, Dr. Flores suggests that, “There are three great places to look for patents: surprising and unexpected results, synergy, and for solutions to an existing problem.” He also counsels researchers to expand their thinking to include alternative applications for their inventions. While an invention may be a “failure for the original intended purpose”, it may have great potential for a secondary, unanticipated function.
Dr. Flores urges researchers to work closely with the university technology transfer office and the attorney assigned to file and prosecute their patent application. He also recommends that researchers provide timely answers to any questions that arise. “Procrastination,” says Dr. Flores, “increases the cost and decreases the quality of a patent application.”
Meanwhile, it is critical that researchers avoid the premature public disclosure of an invention via any medium - printed, oral, or virtual. A lab meeting is not a public forum, but a dissertation defense or a national scientific meeting is. Another consideration is whether or not the public disclosure is enabling i.e., enough details are provided, in any medium, for a competitor to reproduce the work. Public disclosure precludes foreign patent rights. In the United States, a patent may be filed with the US Patent & Trademark Office up to a year after initial public disclosure.