Oil and Gas Patents

Oil and gas patents have historically been very common due to the innovative and continuous technological advances of the sector. These advances have allowed new resources to be developed while improving safety and environmental performance.

Growth of Oil and Gas Patent Filings

The historical trajectory of oil and gas patent filings has recently deviated from the overall trend in patent filings. After decades of running a parallel course, post-2012 oil and gas patents were not filed at the same rate as the rest of the patent universe. As the world experienced the Great Recession of 2008, all patent filings began to decrease. This initial decline was followed by a period of rapid growth in both oil and gas and other patent filings. However, after 2012, as all other patent filings began to increase after 2012, the oil and gas industry did not follow course.

Despite the lack of significant growth, some oil and gas technologies did experience some rate of growth over that period. For example, “earth drilling”—the most common oil and gas technology—has increased compared to other patents, as well as:

  • Gas turbine technologies
  • Dredging
  • Metalworking

Measuring Innovation in the Oil and Gas Industry

How does innovation in the oil and gas industry compare to the broader, non-oil and gas patent universe? One way to answer this is to examine if and how oil and gas patents are being leveraged by non-oil and gas patents. Oil and gas technologies have been cited in different sectors and have become more central within the broader patent universe. This allows other sectors to incorporate innovations from different but relevant technology areas.

Patent Filing Trends and Hydraulic Fracturing

Hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” involves the use of a specially blended liquid (i.e. fracking fluid) which is pumped into a well under extreme pressure, causing cracks or fractures in underground rock formations to stimulate production from new and existing oil and gas wells. Along with horizontal drilling, the technology involved in fracking has allowed previously unreachable sources of large oil and gas reserves in shale rock formations to be accessible.

Patents related to fracking technology have increased in importance in the oil and gas industry throughout the last decade. The industry has filed almost 1,000 related patents since 2006, with the rate of filings increasing each year. Much of these patents are related to the tools and methods that would create effective fractures and technologies that reinforce the fractures that currently exist. Another emerging category is patents related to fracturing fluid.

Patent Innovation for Hydraulic Fracturing

In 2015, more than 160 patents related to fracking were filed. In 2017, 119 patents were awarded to Schlumberger, Ltd. alone, ranging from directional drilling control devices to monitoring contaminations. As fracking technology advances towards full-scale commercialization, in addition to the industry-driven need for efficiency and efficacy, much of the research now seems to be focused on:

  • Monitoring fractures, fluids, and proppants with advanced tracking tools
  • Treating fracking fluid waste
  • Controlling the thickness and heat resistance of fracking fluids
  • Establishing the optimal positioning for horizontal drilling pads

Current findings from recent filings and research suggest that the hydraulic fracturing industry is finding sources of inspiration from technologies outside of the oil and gas sector, such as waste fluid management and treatment.

Trend in Patent Infringement Cases

After a patent application is filed, the idea or invention is protected and gives the inventor the right to exclude others from making, selling, or otherwise using the patented product. If another operator uses the patented technology, he would be infringing on the original inventor’s rights. If this happens, the operator who is infringing should find out which parts of the patent are at issue and if they are valid.

The increase in infringement cases is partly due to the significant increase in overall oil and gas patents. For example, since 2015 there has been a recorded number of infringement cases, especially in Texas where a high number of oil and gas companies are located. Patent cases have steadily been increasing since the Great Recession of 2008.

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