I recently received a question from an independent inventor like yourself who faced a seemingly serious situation and did not know to do about it.
She has been inventing for several years and kept an inventor’s notebook and “poor man’s patents” but misplaced them. In case you do not know what a poor man’s patent is… that is where the inventor puts a write-up and sketches (called a disclosure) of their invention in an envelope and mails it to herself. The still sealed envelope with postmark is retained by the inventor to supposedly provide some form of legal protection for the invention and inventor.
She is worried that her inventions will be stolen by someone finding the notebook or by any of several companies to which she recently sent disclosures of her inventions, she no longer having “proof” she had invented them. She wonders whether there is anything that she can do to protect herself as she counted on those inventions for her future livelihood.
My reply to her is that the poor man’s patent is an”urban legend” and is worthless in providing any protection for inventors an their inventions. Likewise, while her inventor’s notebook was a good reminder of the details of her various inventions, it provides no protection for her or her inventions since it was not notarized or witnessed.
Rather, inventors should keep an inventor’s notebook made from a permanently bound notebook, the kind in which you cannot add pages nor can you remove pages without it being apparent that a page was removed. The best notebooks are about 1/4 inch thick with 8-1/2 by 11 inch pages available at any of the big office supply stores such as Staples or Office Depot.
Make sketches, write a description, and permanently glue any photos you have taken of your invention(s) on the pages. Use a new page for the start of each new invention. Consecutively number the pages at the bottom and have the notebook notarized on the last page you have used. You can have it notarized at your local bank by a Notary Public, which is usually a free service.
You can use the remaining notebook pages to sketch and describe other inventions or improvements to the existing inventions you come up with. Have your notebook notarized on the new last page you have used every time you make a significant update to your notebook (i.e. when you add a new invention or a significant improvement to an existing invention).
Why you should you keep an inventor’s notebook? Well, lets be clear… it is NOT a patent application and your invention is NOT “patent pending”. Rather, an inventor’s notebook has a strictly limited use… as evidence of your date of conception of your invention(s), but ONLY in the United States of America (USA). That is because in the USA, you must be an inventor to get a valid patent and if there is a dispute as to who is the first inventor, the U.S. Patent Office admits proof of inventorship such as notarized inventor’s notebooks (but not your poor man’s patents).
Note also that you CANNOT “backdate” your inventor’s notebook to when you originally conceived your invention(s)… you only get the date of notarization as evidence of the date of conception of your invention(s).
Alternatively to notarization, you can have your inventor’s notebook signed and dated (witnessed) by TWO people, preferably people who have no monetary or other interest in your invention(s).
Brian R. Rayve
P.S. You can lock in “patent pending” at a reasonable price by filing a provisional patent application.
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