Big oil and gas firms are increasingly patenting technology related to fracking operations

Fracking patents reach all time high

The number of patents filed worldwide for fracking technology reached a record high in the last year, according to new figures.

There were 706 patent applications filed worldwide for fracking technology in 2013, a rise of 28 per cent from the 550 applications filed in 2012 according to Thomason Reuter’s legal wing, suggesting that major players in oil and gas services are battling for control of valuable intellectual property in the industry.

In recent years, oil and gas services giants have shifted more of their research and development programmes towards building portfolios of intellectual property in fracking. The most prolific filers of these patents in 2013 were large American companies, including Halliburton, Baker Hughes and Schlumberger.

Gwilym Roberts, partner at intellectual property specialists Kilburn & Strode, said: “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.”

A significant number of fracking patents filed in 2013 are focused on expanding fracking operations to remote locations, according to Thomson Reuters, with patents being filed for systems to provide power to isolated fracking projects, and techniques to heat the water needed in fracking procedures without electricity.

Roberts added: “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.”

But 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 said: “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.”

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