Are you a closet inventor? Do you have an idea that will significantly change or improve an existing project? If so, you need to think about the potential for patenting your work. Even if you’re just playing around in the machine shop at night or using the kitchen table as a lab, you want to be prepared.
First, you need to keep an inventor’s notebook. These are sometimes called laboratory notebooks. These notebooks need to be kept in a special way, but they don’t need to be expensive.
Inventor’s notebooks need to be bound in a way that pages cannot be removed. Think composition notebook or the trendy Moleskin notebook. You can buy official laboratory or inventor’s notebooks online as well. Find a notebook with good quality paper, and use a good pen that will not smudge or bleed if water is spilled on it. The pages need to be numbered consecutively, and you should never remove a page from your notebook. The idea is that you are creating a record of your discovery that cannot be questioned.
Your notes need to be handwritten rather than typed into a computer file. I know it sounds archaic, but handwritten notes can’t be altered the way computer files can be revised.
Your notes need to describe your thinking in detail, and as you move toward identifying what it is you’re inventing (i.e., you’re no longer playing around, but onto something), you need to describe it in the notebook using language that your neighbor could understand.
As you conduct experiments, record the details of the experiment and the results. Some inventors amass hundreds of these notebooks while conducting experiments. Ideally, each page should be read, signed, and dated.
If you do enter information into a computer file, record the entry into your notebook. You can tape prints or photographs or diagrams into your notebook, but affix them so that they are a permanent part of your notebook. Have someone else sign and date across the edge of the image and the page in your notebook.
Occasionally, but regularly, have someone read your notes and understand them. This person should sign and date your notebook. All the signing and dating may seem excessive, but you are preparing a record that shows when you made a particular discovery or improvement to a product.
Inventors can find all kinds of excellent advice through the Inventors Assistance Center (AIC) at the United States Patent and Trademark Office.