Coherency dispute – Landmark bows to pressure from Amoco (December 1998)

Landmark Graphics Corporation has finallyagreed to stop selling its Continuity Cube product, bowing to pressure from Amoco whopatented the technology in 1996. A new product 'PostStack ESP' which Amoco has'reviewed' and deemed unobjectionable, will be available from Landmark shortly.

The successful Coherency Cube software, developed and patented by Amoco and marketed by Coherence Technology Corp. has been the subject of a long-running dispute between Amoco and Landmark Graphics Corporation. The technology was patented by Amoco in 1996 (see PDM Vol. 1 N 6) and offers the seismic interpreter a tool for enhancing discontinuities in seismic data, thereby producing impressive-looking maps of faulting and other abrupt lateral changes such as channel boundaries. Initially, Landmark believed it had bought the rights to use this technology when it acquired Advance Geophysical Corporation (AGC) in 1994 (PDM Vol 2 N7). AGC had struck a deal with Amoco in 1991 giving them the rights to use the continuity algorithm which forms the motor of the Continuity Cube, part of the Poststack interpretative processing package. Amoco contested this interpretation and a court ruling last summer (PDM Vol. 3 N 8) found in Amoco’s favor.

Discontinuous

Subsequent discussions have resulted in Landmark agreeing to discontinue the licensing, certain support and upgrading of its Continuity Cube software. As a result, Continuity Cube is not included in the currently-shipping Release 98 of Landmark’s suite of E&P software. However, Landmark’s clients will not be denied access to continuity-type analysis. A replacement module "PostStack ESP" is destined to replace the incriminated software. The ESP module is currently being tested prior to its release early in 1999. Amoco is said to have "reviewed" this replacement software and has "no objections to its commercial availability".

Good for the lawyers

In PDM’s extensive review of patents and software back in July 1997 we analyzed the pros and cons of patenting software and included a contributed article on software patents by California-based patent attorney Jim Ivey (jim@iveylaw.com). Coherency or continuity is measured using a variety of techniques based on correlation, which is the bread and butter of the seismic processor. No one has yet patented correlation, but if that did come about, every seismic process in the world will be subject to scrutiny. At one juncture, Rutt Bridges formerly of Landmark and past president of the SEG questioned the overall economics of patenting calling for a "truce on patents". Our 1997 analysis concluded that the legislative status quo is unsatisfactory for all except the lawyers. Indeed, the outcome of the protracted Amoco/Landmark dispute, whereby much effort has been expended but very little has changed would seem to confirm our initial analysis.

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