Imagine this. Actually, we left your question intact because we want you to imagine that you're an inventor in court and you're explaining all this to a jury. You detail all the specs and explain how your system is unbreakable, impenetrable, etc. The jury listens intently, at least for a while, and then begins to nod off. Opposing counsel steps up and introduces a tech expert who explains the ways that your system could potentially be hacked (including ways which may have been developed in the years since the system was created). Doubts are raised and all of a sudden you have a problem proving that your ELN is reliable. (Not to mention that electronic records are often more difficult to get admitted into court versus paper documentation.) So, despite the fact thatdigital wtiness signatures are valid in the U.S. (and despite the care with which the program was created), the proof, as they say, is in the pudding.
What do patent attorneys think? Our view was reinforced by patent attorney and author David Pressman. He wrote to us, "I recommend against them as they have not been tested in court (insofar as I know) and all the complicated technical stuff will be too much for a judge [or jury] to comprehend and too difficult for the inventor to do when compared with filling out a sheet, signing it, and having it witnessed. I believe that an overwhelming percent of patent litigators feel this way too." Pressman also noted that the courts like "live" witnesses. To that extent, an ELN may be valuable if it is witnessed. That's because the witnesses can be called into court and cross-examined. In that manner -- having live witnesses who can back up the notebook entry -- ELNs and paper notebooks are probably equal.
Others may differ. Companies that promote ELNs obviously have a different perspective. And because as Pressman notes, there is no caselaw on the subject, it may prove that all ELNs (witnessed or not) are as reliable as paper. Certainly, aside from issues regarding proving patent invention authenticity, ELNs are proving to be an invaluable aide for inventors and innovators.You should also be aware that legal disputes over the authenticity of lab notebooks are not that common. Here's one from 2002.In summary. Do you remember the computer/software you had ten years ago? That was so ... uh 2000-ish. The big difference between digital authenticity and physical authenticity of invention is that in ten years (when a patent dispute could eventually develop), your virtual system of proof is likely to seem outdated (assuming the company that created it is still in business) while that piece of paper will be timeless.