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Fracking patents reach record high

Oilfield Technology,

The number of patents filed across the globe in the last year for fracking technology has reached a record high, as major players in oil and gas services battle for control of valuable intellectual property in the industry.

According to Thomson Reuters, 706 patent applications were filed for fracking technology in 2013, an increase of 28% from the 550 applications filed in 2012.

In recent years, oil and gas services giants have moved more of their research and development programmes towards building portfolios of intellectual property in fracking.

The most prolific filers of patents for fracking technology in 2013 were American oil and gas services companies, including Halliburton, Baker Hughes and Schlumberger.

Gwilym Roberts, Partner at Kilburn & Strode LLP, and author of ‘A Practical Guide to Drafting Patents’, commented: “Fracking is now becoming a global industry rather than just an American one. The big players in the oil and gas services sector are manoeuvring to build the strongest possible global portfolios of intellectual property in this fast-growing sector.

“These figures show that in fracking, access to intellectual property and even small technological advantages over competitors is becoming ever more important.

“Traditionally, finding new reserves has been the most hotly contested area of the energy sector, now developing proprietary technology to extract hard to tap resources and competition over outsourcing contracts is catching up.

“Whilst it has been IT businesses like Apple and Samsung that have acquired reputations as the most voracious acquirers and most aggressive defenders of patents, a range of industries are also speeding up the rate that they are building their intellectual property portfolios. They are doing this not only to improve licensing revenues but also to shut out competitors.”

Thomson Reuters adds that a significant number of fracking patents filed in 2013 address expanding fracking operations in remote locations. For example, patents have been filed for systems to provide power to isolated fracking projects, and techniques to heat the water needed in fracking procedures without electricity.

Gwilym Roberts continued: “Oil and gas services companies are now strongly focused on expanding their fracking operations worldwide. A lot of the patents now being filed in this area reflect this, as companies in the sector endeavour to open projects in more challenging locations around the world.

“Fracking already makes up a large part of overall US gas production, and the businesses in the sector are aiming to secure the same position worldwide. Increasing fracking operations overseas is a huge part of that.”

The US Energy Information Administration (EIA) reports that fracking produced 39% of all natural gas in the US in 2013.

Thomson Reuters says that the presence of Russian and Chinese oil and gas businesses such as Tatneft, Petrochina and Daqing Oilfield in the list of prolific fracking patent filers in 2013 is a relatively new development, as Russian businesses in particular have not traditionally been as heavy users of the global patent system as US and European oil and gas companies.

Roberts concluded: “At one time, it was rare to see Russian businesses use the patent system or build portfolios of intellectual property, but this is changing as more businesses become aware of the potential for securing royalties from competitors by patenting vital technology.”

Adapted from press release by Katie Woodward

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