Many intellectual property disputes boil down to a few simple questions: who, what, and when?

  • Who was there when a new technology was conceived, when was it made into reality and what did each person contribute?
  • Exactly what features were present in the new technology when it was patented or licensed? What features were covered by the patent or license?
  • What was the exact date a key innovative feature was conceived?

Finding the answers to these questions can be surprisingly tricky, especially if the questions are asked months or years after the events occurred. Being able to find the answers (and being able to produce the documentation that supports those answers) can be critical in determining the outcome of disputes about patents, licenses, trade secrets, and other efforts to commercialize your new technology.

Most businesses can systematically track the development of their new technologies to protect them and record the “who,” “what,” and “when” details that often come into dispute at a much later time. Not only does this practice help to make this information available when you need it, but it provides records that can help defend against challenges to dates of invention, inventorship and specific features covered by patents or licenses.

What to document?

The “what”

First, include a brief description of the innovation that explains what the innovation is or does, and what features make it innovative. Second, include enough information to enable a peer to make or use the innovation, or update your record with this information as it is determined.

The “who”

Identify all of the people who were involved in developing the innovation, their roles, and their contact information. This helps to identify who was an inventor, who merely provided technical support, and who knew about the project.

The “when”

Date or sign your records to establish the dates that different inventive events occurred.

When to document?

The short answer is: regularly and often. Records should be prepared as soon as a business is aware that it has a new invention or an innovative improvement—or thinks of one it wants to develop. These records can be updated when there are changes in the project or the personnel, or when the project ends.

Who prepares the documents?

To ensure that these documents are made in a timely and regular fashion, this task should be assigned to a dedicated individual or group.

Keeping regular records of the right details while you are developing your technology can be critical in defending challenges you may face when you are ready to market it.