Who Owns the Data in a Lab Notebook? Eliminate Confusion with an Electronic Lab Notebook

Lab Organization

Joshua is a scientist who works in a pharmaceutical laboratory. His research is focused on decreasing the amount of time it takes to isolate proteins from other materials. If successful, he will eventually help drug manufactures speed up their production processes.

Joshua is a loves his work and is passionate about his research. His day usually consists of planning and executing different experiments and diligently recording the results in his lab notebook. Over the years, his lab notebooks have become a record of his thoughts, notes, and observations during the course of his days. He considers this notebook his property.

Although written by a scientest, the lab notbook belongs to the lab!
There is confusion regarding who owns the data in a Lab Notebook. Courtesy of bbspot.com

According to The Art of Scientific Writing written by Hans Friedrich Ebel, Claus Bliefert, and William E. Russey, Joshua is justified in his feelings towards his lab notebooks. They write that the laboratory notebook serves “as an experimental scientist’s diary.” As a diary, it is frequently perceived as a very personal record.

Although the lab notebook is personal, that doesn’t necessarily mean it belongs to the scientist. Ebel, Bliefert, and Russey go on to explain that the “scientific work described in a notebook is usually work carried out at someone else’s expense, and that person or institution obviously deserve full access to any acquired information.”

On the one hand, the lab notebook is a personal diary where scientists record their thoughts and observations. On the other, it is valuable intellectual property belonging to the people or group who funded the research.

Ultimately, who owns the data?

Conundrums regarding data ownership are not new, and many industries have dealt with similar questions before. The largest industry that is currently grappling with these questions is the social media industry.

Facebook is the largest online social network, with over 1.3 billion active users per month. As a social network, users uploaded a portion of their lives to Facebook including pictures, timelines, and all kinds of status updates. However, one thing that most of these 1.3 billion users do not realize is that once they upload the data to Facebook, they do not own it anymore.

According to Facebook’s terms of service, when users upload digital content to their site, they are granting them “a non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free, worldwide license to use any IP content that you post.” Once something is saved on Facebook, the company has the right to use it any way they choose.

The rules regarding lab notebooks are similar to Facebook’s terms of service. Once the content is recorded, the business actually owns the data. But how do you convince scientists like Joshua that his ‘diary’ does not actually belong to him?

Rather than attempt to convince Joshua, it might just be easier to store the notebook in a format that is easily accessible and controlled more by the business. This means installing an electronic lab notebook with strong access controls.

Electronic lab notebooks provide the same diary function as normal lab notebooks, but the data is stored and controlled on servers owned by the business. The business has the right to grant and remove access to the data to anyone they deem appropriate. Electronic lab notebooks provide the business with more control over their data and ensure that Joshua doesn’t leave with it.

In addition to reducing confusion and keeping processes transparent, electronic lab notebooks also provide additional functionality, such as automated results recording and collaboration tools, increasing the efficiencies within any lab setting. If your or your laboratory is interested in exercising more control over your data, please visit our website today.

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