Is Intellectual Property More Secure with a Laboratory Notebook or an ELN?

Digital Solutions

Although there are many business models within the field of innovation, most center around the intellectual property discovered and recorded within the laboratory notebook. Since the laboratory notebook is the keeper of important information regarding discovery and advancement, it plays a significant role in ensuring the security and the integrity of the material. However, if it is easy to modify and manipulate the information within a laboratory notebook, can lab managers really claim that the data is secure?

lab notebooks
Are laboratory notebooks secure enough to protect today’s intellectual property?
Courtesy of Flickr user snickclunk

Take the case of Aptix & Mentor Graphics v. Quickturn Design, a patent infringement lawsuit that was filed in 1998. Aptix and Mentor Graphics claimed that Quickturn Design had infringed upon a patent of theirs and sought damages. To bolster their claim, Amr Mohsen, the owner of Aptix, submitted the laboratory notebook as evidence of ownership.

However, when the opposing counsel obtained a copy of this notebook, they noticed something was off. They had also obtained a copy of Mohsen’s notebook from the patent attorneys who had originally filed for the patent. Although the two notebooks should have been the same, a comparison between the two revealed that they were not. According to the lawyers for Quickturn design, the second notebook appeared to have been modified to reflect an earlier date of conception. Also, notes and sketches had been added to support Aptix and Mentor’s claims. The case lasted two years, with various legal claims thrown back and forth. In June of 2000, the judge ruled in favor of Quickturn Design and invalidated the entire patent because of the fraudulent claims.

The fraud that was brought to light during this case should be a concern to any laboratories using paper-based laboratory notebooks. The truth is, laboratory notebooks are fairly easy to manipulate and modify by unscrupulous scientists.

On the other hand, electronic laboratory notebooks (ELNs) are not easy to tamper with, even by the owners of the company. Effective ELNs, like the Accelrys Notebook, are designed with the following security features in mind:

  • Secure Logins – If the authenticity of a paper laboratory notebook is ever questioned, the courts may have to resort to penmanship analysis in order to validate the claim of ownership. However, ELNs are designed to validate the authenticity of a researcher through the login process before they even record anything in the notebook. Each person within a laboratory is assigned their own username and password. In order to gain access to the system, users have to provide their credentials.
  • Audit Trails – An ELN is designed to capture the identification of the person modifying each field. This information is tracked by user ID and stored in a separate data table, where it cannot be modified. If an ELN had been the primary record on the Aptix case, the audit trails could have been consulted to determine if the second notebook was modified and by whom.
  • Timestamp – Most laboratory notebooks have a spot where the researcher is supposed to record the date. However, this can easily be manipulated. With an ELN, the system automatically timestamps each entry. There is never a question regarding when an entry or change was made.

    ELNs secure intellectual property with time stamps and audit trails.
    ELNs provide more security than a paper laboratory notebook.
    Courtesy of Bill Branson via

Based on a review of the evidence, it does, unfortunately, appear that Mohsen purposely manipulated his laboratory notebook before he submitted it as evidence. Laboratory managers are responsible for ensuring the integrity of the intellectual property recorded in laboratory notebooks. However, the process is simply too risky and flawed with a paper-based laboratory notebook. The Accelrys ELN simplifies the process by ensuring that users are authenticated, their activities logged and the timing of activities tracked.

If you would like to learn more about the security provided with the Accelrys Notebook, along with its other valuable features, please visit our website today.

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