Patents and the Engineering Notebook

Prior to 2013, patents were awarded to inventors who were first to invent. To prove that you were the first to invent something, meticulous notes, sketches, and test data were required. Documentations of the invention as it was developed were recorded in Engineering Notebooks, with each page signed, dated and witnessed. These were always chronologically documented, without any editing of past notes.

On March 16, 2013, the U.S. patent laws became the “first inventor to file.” The rest of the world had already converted to “first inventor to file.” Now inventors must simply be the first to file a patent for an invention. So how does this affect Engineering Notebooks? Are they still necessary? Yes, for many of the same reasons as before the patent law changed. Those benefits include documenting the engineering process, recording decisions, and noting the reasons for those decisions. The reasoning behind a decision is often forgotten, making it difficult to conclude that the decision is still valid in the face of new insights, information, data, or research.

Based on these changes to patent laws, some changes have been made to the professional use of engineering notebooks as they involve the patent process.

  • Witness signatures are no longer necessary because the notebook is not used for patent or legal reasons.
  • Crossing out unused parts of a page is no longer necessary because there is no need to show that nothing was added after the page was created.
  • Bound paper notebooks written in ink are no longer necessary because edits are now okay. Digital notebooks are now a valid option.

Some traditional Engineering Notebook practices have not changed with the new patent rules.

  • Keeping a table of contents makes finding often referenced information easy. The information can be referenced by page number in paper notebooks or with hyperlinks in digital documents
  • Signing, printing, or typing your name on each page informs readers of the content’s creator
  • Documenting your use of the engineering process in a chronological order creates a record of your thought processes, successes, and failures for future reference.

Note: For student Engineering Notebooks that are submitted for awards with REC Foundation programs, please follow the information in the Guide to Judging:  Judging Engineering Notebooks.