Protecting Intellectual Property from Fire and Theft

On March 13, 1895, Nikola Tesla, the inventor who discovered alternating current electricity, awoke to the worst news any laboratory scientists could ever receive – his laboratory was on fire. The fire destroyed everything inside the lab including Tesla’s invention models, laboratory notebooks and equipment. The financial damage was estimated to be approximately $50,000; however, the loss of the intellectual property within the notebooks may have been far greater.

Protecting intellectual property cannot be done with paper based laboratory notebooks.
Nikola Tesla lost his laboratory notebooks because of a fire in his laboratory.
Image courtesy of Wiki Commons

Today, laboratory risk management procedures and city building codes have reduced the risk associated with fire and other disasters. However, reducing risk is far different from eliminating it. Even today, there is still a possibility that fire, broken water mains or any other natural disaster could destroy or ruin the intellectual property contained within paper-based laboratory notebooks. The only real way to mitigate the risks associated with a disaster is to implement an electronic laboratory notebook (ELN).

Although electronic laboratory notebooks have been around for the last 15 years, the majority of laboratories continue to use paper-based lab notebooks. However, the problem with paper-based lab notebooks is that they are fragile and susceptible to damage from elements including the following:

Water – Paper and water are not compatible. If a water leak (like the one that affected UCLA last week) were to strike a laboratory, the paper-based lab notebooks that came into contact with water would be unusable.

Fire – As Tesla learned, paper-based laboratory notebooks provide fuel for a fire. This fuel allows for a fire to increase in size and inevitably to destroy everything in its path.

Theft Or Misplacement – Since paper-based laboratory notebooks are so mobile, it is easy for them to be left places. In addition, it is also easy for an unauthorized person to walk off with the notebook.

In comparison, an ELN is designed to mitigate both the risk of elemental damage and theft by changing the format of the notebook from paper to digital. The risks would then be mitigated in the following ways:

Backups and Restore

Commercially designed ELNs are attached to a database. As notes are recorded in the ELN, these notes are stored within the database. On a regular basis, the contents of the database should be backed up and taken or sent offsite.

A well-designed backup and restore system would ensure that data loss due to elemental damage is quickly recovered. ELNs can be designed to perform a backup every few seconds or only at night. Lab managers should determine the frequency of a backup based upon how much research they are willing to lose if a disaster were to strike (backups can be made as frequently as every few seconds).

System Security

In order to mitigate the risk of theft or misplacement, laboratory ELNs are also designed with security including usernames, passwords and audit trails. These security features ensure that the valuable intellectual property stored within a notebook does not get lost or stolen.

Another unique feature offered by an ELN’s system security is the ability to limit user access to designated individuals. With a paper notebook, anybody can open the pages and access the contents. However, with an ELN, user access can be assigned so that sensitive material is only seen by the appropriate individuals.

Tesla eventually recovered from the fire and went on to make contributions and discoveries in radio transmission, electricity and x-rays. However, the fire may have hampered or slowed the pace of his research and discoveries. Don’t let a disaster slow the pace of discovery within your laboratory. Visit our website today to learn more about protecting intellectual property from elemental damage and theft with the Accelrys ELN.

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