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Laboratory Notebooks

In accordance with GLP, the Data Protection Act 1998 and Freedom of Information Act 2000, it is imperative that Laboratories maintain accurate records of all experiments conducted.

A Laboratory Notebook should state what you did and what you observed and should understandable to a stranger. The measure of a scientific truth is the ability to reproduce the experiment and the content of a Laboratory Book should support and permit faithful replication.

Unlike the practice in the UK and Europe, whereby a patent is awarded based on the first to file a patent application citing the new technology, US patent law requires that inventors satisfy its ‘first to invent’ criteria and the laboratory book is important documentary evidence of the conception and reduction to practice of an invention.

US patent law requires proof of both ‘invention’ and ‘conception’, the formulation of the complete means for solving a problem in such a way that one of ordinary skill in the art could practice the invention without unduly exercising extensive research or experimentation; and ‘reduction to practice’, the making and testing of the invention, and determining that it will work for its intended purpose.

Generally a sketch and a brief written description are sufficient to establish ‘conception’. ‘Reduction to practice’, however, can be ‘constructive’ (by filing a patent) or ‘actual’ by the construction and successful testing of a prototype of the invention. This is heavily reliant upon the production of clear, convincing, documentary evidence to support the precise timing of an invention and/or its reduction to practice, laboratory notebooks are critically important to this process and to any subsequent justification as in the case of alleged Patent infringement or in an audit exercise conducted by a public funder.

Research funded by the EU requires records to be kept for at least 20 years though a completed Laboratory Notebook should be retained for a minimum of 6 years, or longer depending on circumstances.

Characteristics of exemplary Laboratory Book practice are:

  • There should be at least two copies of every notebook: one for the researcher and one for the University. In principle, the University should retain the original version of all laboratory notebooks, but if this is not practical, the copy retained by the University should be a certified copy.
  • Pages should be bound and numbered sequentially.
  • Laboratory notebooks in a series should also be numbered sequentially.
  • Entries should be signed and dated promptly and absences for a period of time noted appropriately.
  • Entries should be witnessed and corroborated regularly by a scientist who is not working on the same project, but who is competent to understand the work.
  • Entries (made in indelible ink and not pencil) should be consistent and continuous.
  • Ideas should be expressed in a clear narrative style.
  • Ideas should be recorded contemporaneously as far as is possible.
  • Each individual entry should be intelligible to another investigator without specific explanation.
  • All labels, gels and diagrams should be permanently affixed in the notebook.
  • Spaces and other anomalies should be clearly explained in the text.
  • Corrections should be clearly visible and struck through with a single line.
  • Investigators working together on a joint project should each maintain a separate record of the research project.
  • Dates should be recorded in their full form i.e. 24th November 2011so as to avoid any cultural confusion.
  • Do NOT:
  • Use irreversible correction fluid or other substances (such as Tipp-ex).
  • Make Electronic notes but, if such notes are taken hard copies of the entries should be printed out regularly, signed, dated and affixed to consecutive pages of a bound notebook.
  • Use staples or paperclips.
  • Use loose-leaf notebooks.

 Further information

BBSRC - Information for grant holders for Statement on safeguarding good scientific practice

EPSRC - Good Practice in Science and Engineering Research

ESRC - Framework for Research Ethics

MRC - Good Research Practice and Guidelines

Intellectual Property Office

US Patent and Trademark Office