The array of opportunities for oilfield service and technology companies equipped with the expertise to maximise oil and gas recovery across the Middle East provided the focus for the most recent of the Andrews Kurth Intelligent Energy Law series of events, held in Aberdeen at the beginning of June.

Hugh Fraser, Managing Partner of Andrews Kurth's Dubai office, has spent more than a decade supporting North Sea origin businesses internationalising in the Middle East. During the seminar, hosted by Aberdeen & Grampian Chamber of Commerce, he set out the energy issues across the region, highlighted key projects by country, the industry's growing technology requirements and the legal and commercial issues surrounding entry to the market – including the protection and exploitation of intellectual property.

"It's generally accepted in the industry that without a Middle East presence an oil and gas business cannot claim to be truly international. The scale and volume of projects across the region, in oil and gas and the wider energy sphere, makes it one of the world's most significant markets," said Hugh Fraser.

"Deep-water areas are coming into focus in the Red Sea and East Mediterranean, creating opportunities for North Sea and Gulf of Mexico know-how, and Oman is a good example of where there has been a real focus on enhanced oil recovery techniques."

However, the audience in Aberdeen were advised that new entrants to the market must be committed for the medium to long term if they are to achieve returns.

"You have to go in with a five-year business plan as a minimum and not expect to be cash positive in year one. Doing business in the region is bureaucratic and the process of registering and licensing a business can be time-consuming, as can vendor registration with the national oil companies. You can realistically spend your first year just getting the paperwork right," said Fraser.

The Intelligent Energy Law series will continue in August, when Fraser and Houston-based partner Jeff Dodd attend ONS in Stavanger. The conference, which marks its 40th anniversary this year, has a strong focus on the Middle East. It will address a range of issues, including how the industry's innovation and technology development will lead to change. Saudi Aramco is the principal conference sponsor and will present alongside ADNOC and Kuwait Energy in a series of afternoon sessions devoted to the region.

Jeff Dodd, who chairs Andrews Kurth's Intellectual Property and Technology Transactions group, has extensive experience of intellectual property commercialisation and exploitation strategies and structuring, negotiating and documenting technology acquisition, transfer and commercialisation transactions within the oil and gas sector.

"Technology requirements across the Middle East include enhanced oil recovery and artificial lift; LNG and GTL; seismic, geology, reservoir characterisation and fluid modelling; unconventional drilling and completions; horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing; advanced completions and well intervention; automation, advanced control systems and digital systems; asset integrity management; and carbon capture and storage. The need for nuclear power and renewables, especially solar, waste to energy, desalination and IT security and asset protection technologies is also increasing," said Dodd.

"Commercial and legal considerations for market entrants include territorial application of patent rights, who owns new IP that arises from work, specialist personnel contracts and restrictive covenants that reflect the increasingly mobile and consultant-heavy workforce, licensing and enhanced technology services agreements and infringement monitoring, defence and indemnities. The governing law of contracts and statutory laws, dispute resolution planning and jurisdiction issues also need to be considered."

The wider context to this growth market is the fact that the global energy industry is changing the way in which it trades in IP and technology.

"The industry has traditionally invested in technology and innovation which was distributed as equipment or in connection with services. Transactions involving oilfield technology are now becoming international, market-driven acquisition and trading with new participants getting involved. At the same time, we increasingly see a deconstruction of product and service components from IP and technology components. In this respect, oil and gas is becoming like all the other global technology markets," explained Dodd.

"The industry standard IP value chain – comprising the creation, securing, acquisition and monetisation of IP – now has many complicating factors. The new market dynamics and techniques for decoupling and trading in oil and gas IP may not yet be as publicised as in other technology markets but they are evident and growing. Energy companies must recognise that the old US and European focus for IP protection is out of date.

Companies aspiring to exploit their IP within the Middle East market need to be aware that cross-market collaborations and transactions can create both issues and opportunities in other markets. Companies need to take a 360˚ of IP strategy and assessment across markets to ensure that they are both protecting and fully realising the opportunities around their technology," said Dodd.

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