It's fun to imagine the process of invention as something feverish and exciting, where inventors behave like Doc Brown from "Back to the Future." You know the routine: crazy-haired geniuses running around a cluttered lab, making calculations on the fly and stumbling upon life-changing discoveries.
The boring reality is that the best invention process is one that is controlled, systematic, and, particularly, very well-documented. As in every step of the way. As in good labels, diagrams, dates on everything, and careful technical prose describing the specifications of the invention, its usefulness, and everything else about it. As in finding two people (preferably not close relatives) who are not only willing to sign your notebook saying they witnessed the notes on that date, but who also understand the invention.
Why? Because if an invention has any value on the market, there's a pretty good chance someone will challenge the inventor to prove he or she invented it first. There are a few reasons that this may happen. A common reason is that two or more people often apply for similar patents around the same time. There may also be confusion about which member of a group working on a project invented what. Heck, somebody might even steal an idea and claim it as their own. In any event, it's always advisable to have a log of your invention development just in case.
It's also worth noting that if an inventor deducts costs associated with developing an invention for tax purposes, the inventor's notebook would be a good record in the case of an audit.
For more information about the inventor's notebook, check out Fred Grissom and David Pressman's The Inventor's Notebook: A 'Patent it Yourself Companion, available electronically through the library. (Library card required.)
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