In the former first-to-invent system, an inventor’s notebook was crucial to the patent process. An inventor recorded all information in this notebook, which could be pulled out if the inventor’s claim to be first in envisioning a concept was challenged. Each entry had to be dated and signed by a witness. Pages had to be bound and numbered. And all pertinent information should be recorded.
Though some inventors asserted this notebook could easily be fraudulent and it was onerous to maintain, it is still important in the first-to-file system as well. In this system, the inventor must file for the patent. So such notebooks are still viable because they help establish, correct or determine who the inventor is.
In the Congressional Record dated March 3, 2011, however, Congress said inventors may file a provisional application to bypass some of the issues associated with the inventor’s notebook. This application has the same function as the inventor’s notebook because it requires an invention’s description, including what the invention is and how it works. It is also a dated government document so one cannot easily tamper with it. Furthermore, this does away with expensive discovery if a claim is challenged.
After filing this provisional application, inventors have a year to file their completed application. For small entities, the provisional application fee is $110.
Though close to obsolete, an inventor may still want to maintain his notebook nonetheless. No matter if you file a provisional application or not, it may still be useful in a derivation proceeding to prove that someone stole your idea. It is an essential safety net that may tip a claim in your favor.