Until recently, every inventor who wanted a patent had to keep a detailed and witnessed inventor’s log to track the progress of their creations. The idea behind the notebook—besides being a useful written document for the inventor, of course—was that if the patent came into dispute, the inventor could prove that he or she was the first to invent.
But when Congress passed the America Invents Act in 2011, the patent system changed. Instead of being “first-to-invent” the system is now “first-to-file”—meaning that patent rights now go to the first person to file the paperwork (although there are certain protections in place to make sure people aren’t just stealing others’ ideas and then flying through the filing process).
Opinions on this switch are mixed, and why that is is a topic for another post. But the switch was made in order to match patent laws in the rest of world, which are generally based on a first-to-file system.
So, does this mean inventors should abandon the detailed note-keeping that’s been a part of the invention process for centuries? Hardly. Here are three reasons you should hang on to that pen and paper.
- Keeping detailed records is imperative to the design process. Anyone who’s taken an invention through multiple designs knows that without proper notes, it’s very hard to remember what exact changes you’ve made over time. Even if you’re absolutely sure you’ll remember it—maybe you’ve changed something as major and basic as the function of your product—assume that you won’t (and chances are you’ll be right in this assumption).
- If you do end up in legal proceedings, your notebook can provide a record for the courts. One always hopes that legal proceedings and patent disputes won’t ever come into the picture, but if they do, you’ll be in a vastly better position if you have a record of your invention process. Those dates and contacts you kept? They could be invaluable if you have to prove the product is actually yours. In some cases, you may even have to prove that you invented a certain feature of your product.
- You’ll always be ready for your next great idea. There’s a reason the world’s great thinkers, from Mark Twain to Charles Darwin, never left home without a notebook: they never knew when they were going to hit on their next big idea, be it Huckleberry Finn or evolution. Sure, neither Huck Finn nor evolution came together in a single notebook entry—but that just goes to show how vital it is to keep regular notes. One day, you could be reading through your notebook and find that you’ve accidentally cobbled together a great product idea.
Write down everything, from the ideas you have about improving your product to what worked and what didn’t. Always include a date with each entry and write down the names and contact information of people you’ve spoken to about your product, whether they’re friends and family or professionals in the industry your product is destined for. If you’re talking to vendors or others who might become involved in your process, make sure you write down what you talked about and when. If you want to be really careful, you can even audio record the conversations, as long as the person you’re speaking with is ok with it.
This is a rarity—most patents are never challenged—but you’ll want to be prepared. Patent lawsuit costs can run you anywhere from $650,000 to more than $5 million, depending on how much the claim is worth.
It can be a pain to carry around a full-sized notebook—which is why there exist pocket-sized ones. Pick one up and keep it with you at all times. If even that’s too much, take a regular piece of paper, fold it up, and keep that in your pocket. As long as you’ve got a pen with you, you’ll always be prepared for inspiration to strike.
When it comes to selecting an inventor’s notebook, any type is fine except for loose leaf binders. You’ll want one without removable pages, to make sure that your notes stay in chronological order.
And while you may think you’re more of a typing than a writing person, keeping a physical record is always a better idea. Paper notebooks can’t disappear in the event of a computer crash, or when your cell phone falls into a toilet (because, eventually, that’s going to happen to all of us).
If your notebook is full of great ideas that you just need a little help making into realities, contact us at Pivot International. We’d love to help you with whatever you need, from figuring out product design to manufacturing your product. And, of course, we always like comparing notebooks!