New technology and changing processes are making oil and
gas drilling and extraction more and more economic, whether
involving conventional or unconventional resources. While
innovation is important, it's just as important to take proper
precautions to protect it and to be able to enforce these rights
against third parties, in order to maximise the value of the
innovation. You get a competitive advantage from being able to
prevent competitors accessing or using that technology, and IP
rights allow you to benefit from licensing and collaboration
arrangements with third parties.
Here are some issues to consider in protecting your IP:
Patents are increasingly used in the oil and gas industry. In
2013 inventors filed a total of 12,062 oil and gas patent
applications - three times the number of approvals sought ten years
ago. This surge has been driven largely by innovations in fracking
technology, with companies seeking protection over improvements to
fracturing fluid composition, pressure and use. Patent applications
covering methods for estimating the size of fractures, systems to
provide power to isolated wells and methods for preparing fracking
fluids without electricity have also been filed. If you intend to
file for patent protection in Australia, the details of your
application will be published and available to everyone. So if you
want to keep your IP on the down low (like Coca-Cola's precious
formula), then keeping a trade secret may be more valuable than
creating a patent.
In cases where patent protection is either unavailable or
inappropriate, trade secrets may be the best vehicle to protect a
new technology. Unlike patent protection, trade secrets can be
protected for as long as the information remains secret. However
you will need to ensure that appropriate confidentiality agreements
are in place with employees or third parties who learn the secret.
This option may be better suited to smaller operators who don't
intend on licensing their innovation to third parties. The size of
the organisation also makes it easier to control to whom your
information is released.
When deciding whether to apply for patent protection, you
should consider the long term prospects for your innovation,
particularly if you want to license your technology to third
parties. Generally speaking, parties to licensing arrangements
prefer patents because it avoids the sort of loss you might
experience if your trade secret is disclosed. This scenario becomes
even more likely where the technology is being licensed to multiple
parties, in which case confidentiality agreements may not be
sufficient to maintain a complex set of arrangements revolving
around your innovation. Just because it worked for KFC's eleven
herbs and spices, doesn't mean it will work for you.
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