Documenting Ideas

Something that is often overlooked in our conversations about inventing awesome stuff, is the idea of documentation. This is easy to understand. Everyone is excited about the doing. The process of creating something. Quite naturally, people are less excited about the paperwork associated with the task of documentation—the drudgery of recording what has been done.

There are several important reasons as to why you should document an invention idea or process. For example, you might want to prove inventorship. Perhaps you need information to serve as the basis of instructions, so people can actually use what you invent. You also might what to make sure the idea can be replicated, which is the basis of a patent. Your notes can also be useful in legal proceedings, if things come to that (And hopefully not!).

Keeping good notes does not have to be an onerous process. Organizations often have procedures for documentation and tools to help employees document whatever they are doing. If you work for a company and are familiar with their processes, you might want to model them for yourself (as long as they are not proprietary). If you don’t have a model in mind, then an “inventor’s notebook” is often recommended. The notebook should have some structure. At least the date of the entry, a title, and an area for taking notes. I like to use a notebook with grid paper in case I want to sketch something. In an inventor’s notebook, you can maintain brief notes, comments, sketches, written narrative, or any combination.

Just remember that it’s important to capture your thinking as you create something. Documenting an idea or process can be as formal or informal as you want to make it. Some people go to the extent of having witnesses sign their notes and others suggest writing everything in pen. Erase nothing; line through something if you have to correct an error. When the U.S. was a “first to invent” country these procedures could pay off. Now that it is a “first to file” country, it often may not matter who thought of an idea first.

So the organization of an inventor’s notebook today, for many people, might be less about proving who came up with an idea first, and more about managing information so that they can refer back to their ideas during the invention process. In any case, make sure that you jot something down whenever a new concept pops into your head, or you are modifying an existing one.

Do you have any ideas about documentation or examples of how it has helped someone? If so, please share it with the group!


Invention Documentation (Note: The U.S. is no longer first to invent, it is now first to file)

Software Documentation